Bol has never backed away from a worthy adversary. When he was 15 and still living in the village of Gogrial in the Sudan, a lion slaughtered one of the cows in the herd Bol was tending. Manute was frightened after he found the carcass, so for the next several days he carried a spear with him when he went into the bush. After nearly a week he came upon the lion, asleep in a thicket. Bol hurled his spear at the lion with all of his strength, then hid under a bush—a very large bush—until the beast was dead. "If it was not sleeping," says Bol, "I cannot do it because that lion might kill me."
Don Nelson, the coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, who recently spent five days in Newport scouting Manute and his teammates, was often as dumbfounded by what he heard as by what he saw. "We have the number 22 pick in the draft, and we have to consider him very seriously," Nelson says. "But when you talk to him, you suddenly realize that this kid hasn't been out of the jungle very long. I mean, people just don't go around killing lions with spears anymore. Things he has done are supposed to only happen in the movies."
Bol always has the slightly bemused look on his face of the bewildered bushman in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, and like the bushman he is very much a stranger in a strange land. There are remarkably few 7'6¾" black shepherds living in Newport, which confers upon Bol a considerable notoriety. Like most of the Gulls players, Bol has no car and is stuck out in a student apartment complex 20 minutes from downtown Newport, but he still manages to get around.
"Manute is everywhere, and nobody knows how he gets there," says Webb. "You go to practice, he's already there. You go to the game, he's already there. So you ask him how he got there, and he'll say, 'Little man, I get here. Telephone, don't walk.' Then he just laughs. Nobody knows yet what that last part means. Manute talk all funny like that."
Bol actually speaks English quite well, and is at ease jabbering away with strangers who approach him on the street. Even in an era when 7-footers are becoming increasingly commonplace, Bol's height is so phenomenal he's frequently gawked at and studied as if he were a sideshow attraction. And yet through it all he remains engaging and surprisingly serene, almost regal—his royal highness. "You don't have to bother yourself," Bol says of his height, "because God give it to you. I don't get mad."
The only occasions upon which Bol usually does get upset is when other teams try to shove him around under the basket, which, because of his skinny frame, is most of the time. Bol has a flat-footed reach of 10'3", and from fingertip to fingertip his remarkable wingspan measures almost eight feet. Not only can Bol dunk a ball without jumping, but he can stand beneath the basket and grasp both sides of the backboard at once. However, he weighs only 190 pounds.
"I'd be afraid that if somebody in our league hit him, he'd break like a grasshopper does," says Dallas Mavericks coach Dick Motta, one of about a dozen NBA types in Newport last week as they made last-minute inspections of potential choices in this week's draft. "An arm here, a leg over there."
An arm here and a leg there is precisely what Bol shows any shooter reckless enough to try to penetrate the Gulls' zone defense. "In 23 years in the game," says Nelson, who played on three championship teams with Bill Russell in Boston, "he's the most amazing shot blocker I've ever seen.
"I imagine Russell might have done some of the things Manute can do when he first came into the league, but I never saw him block more than five or six shots in a game. This kid is averaging just under 13 blocked shots a game," says Nelson. "If you called any general manager in the NBA and told him you had a player who could block 10 shots a game if he played 40 minutes a night, I guarantee he'd take him, sight unseen. Manute could do that. Of course, you might lose every game, because he wouldn't be a factor otherwise."
"Manute affects a game in a way most people can't even conceive until they actually see him," says Stacom. "There's never been anyone like him, so there's no frame of reference for a player like Manute. For instance, one of the first things you learn in sports is that if what you're doing is successful, you keep doing it. So guys are taking 15-foot jump shots against us, and he's blocking them. They just keep right on taking the same shots because in their minds they don't believe it's possible for him to be doing what he does.