"Never heard of it."
"It's not a school. It's a country."
"Never heard of it."
Lynam watched the proceedings on television. Somone from the NBA read off the name and country and the height and weight. Seven-seven, 180 pounds. There was a murmur of confusion around the draft tables. Seven-seven. NBA talent scout Marty Blake was questioned on the screen. Blake said he had never heard of any Manute Bol. Lynam laughed.
After the draft Lynam traveled to Cleveland. He watched Manute play in a pickup game for a while against Darren Tillis, a 6'11" big man who once had been drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics. How tall was this Manute guy? Very tall. How good was he? He needed a lot of work...but he still was very tall. Lynam was happy with his fifth-round draft pick, and he relayed this information through a 6'3" Sudanese national team forward named Deng Deng Nihal, who speaks English and had accompanied Manute from Sudan. Manute and Deng talked back and forth.
"Listen to this," Lynam says. "I ask what language they're talking. Deng says, 'a Dinka dialect.' "
The rest of the story did not work out as well. Manute had become shy about going directly to the pros because he did not know the language and would not know what the coaches were telling him to do. The NBA declared him ineligible because he had not stated his intention to enter the draft 45 days before it was held. The draft selection was voided. The NCAA became involved, questioning his eligibility for NCAA Division I basketball. Manute eventually wound up at the Division II University of Bridgeport (Conn.)—in the hometown of P.T Barnum—for a season, hitting the public consciousness with stories of killing a lion and using cows for currency and having his teeth removed in a Dinka ritual. He was a secret no more. The Washington Bullets drafted him in the second round in 1985.
"Here's the thing," Lynam says. "Listen to this. He really should have been with the Clippers. They should have kept his draft rights. It all got very confusing. One of the things everyone was looking at was his passport. His passport said he was 19 years old. His passport also said he was five feet two."
Lynam asked Manute about the discrepancy. Manute said he had been sitting down when Sudan officials measured him.