In Washington, Manute was friendly first with Bernard King and John Williams and the general manager, Bob Ferry. At Golden State, his best friend was Chris Mullin. He still misses Mullin, his one-on-one competition for the longest time, his road-trip dinner companion. In Philadelphia, he did not plan on being best friends with the rascals. It somehow just happened. He makes friends easily.
"I knew Rick before I came," he says. "Rick was traded from Washington the year before I went, so when we played in Detroit he would take us out. Charles? I remember Charles bumped Chris all over the court one night in Philadelphia. He really hurt Chris. Then, after the game, he came to the bus to apologize to Chris. He knew he was wrong. Charles is just crazy."
The craziness surfaces while Manute is getting dressed for the game. Barkley is working on him again. He is saying...oh, one of the things he usually says is that he is surprised that Manute is married to a pretty woman and not one of those women that Rick and Charles used to see all of the time in
in high school. Remember those women, Rick? Manute stands to defend his honor. Or is it the honor of the women of Sudan? He goes into the pose of a 7'7" John L. Sullivan looking for Jake Kilrain. Barkley goes into the pose of Muhammad Ali trying to escape George Foreman. This is in the locker room. Before the game.
"Rick!" Barkley suddenly shouts. "He's messing with me."
"I told you not to mess with my boy," Mahorn says.
Together they attack Manute. Mahorn grabs him from behind. Barkley grabs his ankles. They lower him to the locker room floor. The other players watch. Manute is stretched the length of the floor. He is wearing his Sixers uniform with his little street socks. They are black with white polka dots. He is struggling to get away, hitting at Mahorn with his New Balance sneaker. Mahorn and Barkley look as if they are prepared to tickle him to death.
"All right," Barkley finally says. "We'll let him up."
They help the big man to his feet, no easy process. Everyone relaxes for a second. Manute attacks. He grabs Barkley in a headlock. He lowers his head with its close-cut hair onto Barkley's bald head. He begins to rub, creating a fine friction.
"Oh, not the hair," Barkley whimpers.
INDIANAPOLIS—"You could not drink this beer in Sudan," Manute says. "They would put you in jail, just for drinking a beer. That is a law since 1983."