The game continues at this easy, chatty driveway pace. The real game will be at night at the Richfield Coliseum against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Barkley, an NBA All-Star forward, is 6'6", 252 pounds, but next to Manute he appears to be a chubby athletic child. He has to spin and push to escape Manute's body. He has to throw up exaggerated jumpers, devised from some geometry book, to travel over Manute's long arms. Manute is a grand and different riddle to be solved with each successive shot.
How tall? A heavy man says, "And I thought I had trouble finding pants that fit." A kid decides he thinks Manute looks taller on television. His friend says he has to be kidding. Has to be! A runner wonders if Manute could put on some more weight and maybe pick up a few more moves...couldn't he do that? A racquetball player asks who this guy is, anyway. He sure is tall.
"I love you, Charlie," Manute says, picking from one of his two moves. "But I have to do this."
He goes to the right. The hook. The ball goes through the basket. Hoooooo-eeee. The big man, 28, has been in America for seven years now and has moved to his third NBA team, and yet he is still a curiosity. The curiosity of curiosities. He is now in the middle of a three-game road trip through the Midwest. The curiosity is traveling with friends. Milwaukee. Cleveland. Indianapolis.
MILWAUKEE—Manute is with the Sixers because Jimmy Lynam. wanted him with the Sixers. Jimmy Lynam is the coach. The owner, Harold Katz, wanted Manute and the general manager, Gene Shue, wanted Manute, but Lynam really wanted Manute. He has watched Manute play basketball longer than any other coach in professional basketball. In Lynam's mind Manute is unfinished business.
"I've always been intrigued with the way he can alter a game," Lynam says in the hotel cocktail lounge. "He comes into the game and he just changes it. Defensively. He takes the other team out of its offense. No other player really does that. He comes in and he disrupts. We're still figuring out what to do with him, especially offensively, but he is here mostly for defense."
The deal was made in the off-season. The Sixers traded their No. 1 draft choice in 1991 to the Golden State Warriors for Bol. It would seem to be a heavy price to pay for a man who had averaged three points and 4.7 rebounds per game for five years in the NBA, but the only number that counted was Manute's 3.8 blocked shots per game. The Sixers traded, basically, for a pine tree that could be planted in the floor in front of the basket. The pine tree has branches that move. The branches are obstacles that other teams are not used to dealing with.
Lynam likes that idea. He has liked that idea for as long as he has thought about it, since he was the coach of the San Diego Clippers in 1983 and received an intriguing phone call on an idle afternoon.
"Listen to this," he says, beginning at the beginning. "I'd coached at Fairfield, the college in Connecticut. I'd known another coach in the area named Don Feeley. He calls up one day and tells me he has a sleeper, someone no one else knows. I say, 'Yeh, yeh, everybody has a sleeper. Everybody knows some bright young kid. Who can be a sleeper who's any good? I've never seen one.' Feeley says his sleeper is seven-feet-seven. I decided I could listen to what he had to say."
Feeley had taken a job in Africa coaching a one-month clinic for the Sudanese national team in Khartoum. Nothing very exciting was happening. He was teaching poor kids the vagaries of the pick and roll, working with bad equipment in hot weather. On one memorable day, the door opened. Practice stopped. All of the players started smiling. Feeley looked at the doorway. There was the tallest man he had ever seen, a figure made of giant pipestems. The figure was smiling.