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Unusual for a man with a broken neck, a broken left wrist, a shattered left kneecap, a massive head wound, manifold internal injuries and a hole in his neck you could fit your fist into, Manute Bol feels fortune-kissed. "It's a miracle," he says. "God did good. If He had broken these legs, I'd have big problems."
Those legs, with their 48-inch inseam, scarcely make a ripple beneath his hospital bedsheets, from which the rest of Bol's body--215 pounds on a 7'7" frame--emerges like a wisp of smoke. "I was down to 205," says Bol, horizontal in his nine-foot bed.
The Dinka Dunker has been hospitalized since a car accident on June 30, when he was pitched from a taxicab onto a Connecticut highway. "In all the time since," says his friend Drew Kearns, "I've never seen him in a bad mood."
On the contrary, Bol feels blessed, saved by God and American ingenuity. Found near death on Route 2 in Colchester, strapped by paramedics to two body boards held together end to end by duct tape, Bol was flown by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital. "If this accident happened anyplace but America," says the native of Sudan, "I wouldn't be talking to you." He is thankful that he can walk, however slowly, down a hospital hallway.
Arthritic knees leave Bol incapable of driving, so he often rearranges his body, like a folding ruler, to fit into a cab. On the night of the accident, after leaving a Connecticut Sun WNBA game, he found himself in a taxi chauffeured by Neville Robinson. Unbeknownst to Bol, the 48-year-old Robinson was driving without a license, which had been suspended after a drunken-driving arrest. While Bol dozed in the backseat, Robinson--according to a preliminary report by Connecticut state police--struck a median guardrail and careened into a rock ledge. He and Bol were ejected when the car apparently cartwheeled. Robinson, who was legally intoxicated, died at the scene. "Should I be mad at someone who's dead?" says Bol. "No, I cannot be."
Some 50,000 of Bol's fellow non-Arab Africans in Sudan have died in the last 18 months, many at the hands of government-sponsored Arab militiamen, in a war that is two decades old. And yet Bol speaks as if he's won life's lotto. "If I didn't play in the NBA," says Bol, "maybe I would be killed in that war." Thus he's given his life savings--his salary averaged $1.5 million during his 10-year NBA career--to his countrymen.
Indeed, Bol pummeled William (the Refrigerator) Perry on Fox's Celebrity Boxing not for the national ridicule, of which there was plenty, but rather for the $35,000 fee, which he quietly donated to a fund for Sudanese orphans. "A lot of people love themselves and no one else," says Bol, recumbent in the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain, Conn. "I didn't throw my money away. I did good things with it."
Which leaves Bol broke, bereft of health insurance and unable to pay his colossal hospital bill. He cannot collect his NBA pension (of $24,000 a year) until he turns 45 in 2007. "He's in real dire straits," says Bol's lawyer, Michael Jainchill. "Cab companies in Connecticut are only required to carry very limited liability coverage, which isn't going to be nearly enough for poor Manute." (Donations can be sent to the Manute Bol Medical & Special Needs Fund, c/o Fleet Bank, 4 N. Main St., West Hartford, Conn., 06107.)