The answer: To use it as a springboard back to the Show, where he played 10 seasons with the Washington Bullets, the Warriors, the 76ers and the Miami Heat, and blocked more than 2,000 shots. "The thing about Manute is that he's very competitive, very proud," says Musselman. "He's also the funniest player I've ever been around."
Musselman is not talking about Bol's funny-looking offensive weapon of choice—a signature three-point shot, in which the ball is flung from behind his right ear and approaches the basket like a volleyball serve, spinning on a vertical axis. In the shootaround he drained an astonishing number of these grotesque bombs.
If Bol gets the NBA call-up he so covets, however, it will not be because of his marksmanship but because he ranks seventh alltime in the NBA in blocked shots. "I've always seen him as a kind of relief pitcher," says 76er director of player personnel Gene Shue, who was Philadelphia's general manager when Bol played there. "He can come in and have an immediate impact on the game."
After practice, at the restaurant of the hotel he calls home, a waitress asks, "What'll it be, Bol?" and then recommends the navy-bean soup. Bol demurs. "Back home, I grew beans," he says. "I am tired of beans."
On a TV mounted above the table, CNN is on. Sadly, Bol says he can't get CNN or Headline News in his room. "I must have news," he says. "It's killing me." Bol is starved in particular for news of his homeland, where a 12-year-old civil war continues to rage. He is head of the Manute Bol Sudan Relief Fund, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars—much of it coming directly out of his own pocket—for refugees in southern Sudan. During the 1993 off-season, Bol met with 58 congressmen and senators to publicize the plight of his countrymen.
He has paid a price for his commitment to that cause. Shortly after the Warriors released him last season, the Phoenix Suns invited Bol for a tryout. They wanted him to come on a Friday, but Bol had promised to be at a Sudan-related fundraiser in New York that weekend. He told the Suns he could be there Monday or Tuesday. "It ticked them off," says Bol's agent, Frank Catapano. "They didn't bring him in. Some of his problems he's brought upon himself."
Some, but not all. While the best CBA referees were off filling in for striking NBA officials, poor saps like Bol suffered at the hands of college and high school refs hired to work CBA games. When Florida had the ball, Dawkins swatted Bol around like a crash-test dummy and got away with it. At the other end, Bol couldn't touch Dawkins without getting whistled.
"Quit protecting him!" Musselman screamed at the officials. "He's 50——years old, and you're treating him like he's in his prime!"
Dawkins had a prime? Sort of. During his NBA career he averaged 12 points a game, played in three NBA Finals and had the fourth-best field goal percentage (.572) in NBA history. Yet so vast was his promise upon signing with the 76ers directly out of Orlando's Maynard Evans High in 1975 that by the time he left for Italy, he was widely considered one of the greatest disappointments in league history.
He would like to change the ending of that story—literally: In his free time Dawkins works on his autobiography. Inspired by the example of boxer George Foreman, Dawkins would like to make one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history. "If I can get back into the league," he says, "I'd have a hell of a last chapter."