Manute Bol, 1962-2010

The Washington Post has a comprehensive obituary of former Washington Bullet Manute Bol, once the tallest player in the NBA. Among many other things, it answers the question of why the other obituaries couldn’t agree on whether he stood 7-foot-6 or 7-foot-7:

When the Bullets drafted him in the second round in 1985, he was measured at 7 feet 6¾ inches in his bare feet – usually rounded up to 7-7 – and he weighed a mere 190 pounds. Mr. Bol had limited basketball skills, but with a fingertip-to-fingertip wingspan of 8 feet 6 inches, he proved to be unusually adept at one aspect of the game: blocking opponents’ shots. Standing flat-footed, he could extend his hand above the rim of the basket 10 feet off the floor.

That passage also combines the specific ( in his bare feet ), the vague ( rounded up to 7-7 ), and the incredible ( he could extend his hand above the rim of the basket ) in a way that captures what a sports sensation was like before the era of full sports saturation. My own memory of middle-school slang doesn’t support the hypothesis that Bol was responsible for the spread of “my bad,”   but he was the most famous one-dimensional player there could be on an undistinguished team. The obituary quotes Bol’s trash talk:

“Don’t you have cable?” he would say after blocking an opponent’s shot. “Didn’t the other guys tell you? Nobody dunks on Manute B-O-L!” 

If you didn’t have cable, Bol’s long, skinny shadow flickered across the back end of sports highlights and in the agate type. How many blocks did he get this time? Wait, he was shooting three-pointers? There weren’t enough advertising dollars yet (or enough televisions in the Sudan) for people to build national advertising campaigns around him; he somehow connected basketball to its elusive, barnstorming past.