He is playing one-on-one basketball against Charles Barkley in a local fitness club on a November Saturday afternoon in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Manute Bol is rolling in his own awkward way. One step, two; he has spun past Barkley and lifted himself a foot off the ground and slammed the ball through the orange hoop with two hands. The ball has bounced off Barkley's back, hit the floor and bounced back to Manute.
"I love you, Charlie," he says.
"You're just too small, Charlie," he says.
"Too small," he says again.
Time has stopped around him. As usual. Ordinary dimensions have been altered. The weekend joggers on the running track above the court have quit their workouts to stand and stare. The muscle builders have left their machines. Neighborhood kids have appeared. They carry pens and pencils and cheap cameras. The rest of the Philadelphia 76ers are practicing at other baskets in the double gym, shooting free throws, playing their own one-on-one battles in this light, game-day workout. They are by themselves. Nobody watches. Manute is the only show.
How tall is this guy? Really. How tall? Eyes cannot leave him. Goodness. How tall? It is as if an English teacher had handed out a composition subject asking for 1,000 words on what it would be like to be 7'7" tall, to weigh no more than 225 pounds, to be ink-black, to be half a world away from home, to be able to touch the rim without leaving your feet, to be forced to scrunch into cars and under doorways and to overlap the most kingly of hotel king-sized beds. All heads consider the same subject. How tall?
"Hoooooo-eeee", Manute says.
He has hit the hook shot, the little hook that he takes when he moves to the right with his back to the basket. There basically are two moves that he makes. The hook is one. Maybe six feet. Maybe seven. There is a softness to the shot, a rolled-up piece of paper going into a metal wastebasket. Hoooooo-eeee. The spin to the left and dunk is the other move. The dunk is done without any showboat style. Two hands. The ball is never held more than an inch or two above the basket. Dunk. There are no other moves. Not really. That is the repertoire.
"Traveling," Barkley says.
"Don't even think about it, Charlie," Manute says. "Don't think about it."