Memorial Day wasn't built for this reason, but Manute Bol deserves a thought -- and more -- right now as much as anyone.
Bol, the former Bullet, Warrior, 76er and Heat player, remains hospitalized, fighting kidney failure and a virulent skin disease he contracted while trying to help his fellow Sudanese from the horrors of his country. His entire basketball career, in which his 7-foot-7 frame was both a weapon and a sideshow, has been spent trying to help them.
|Manute Bol has spent his post-NBA days working in Sudan. (Getty Images)|
Still, what life he has is devoted to those of his native land crushed by the poverty and the politics, the violence and the starvation, and more than anything else the indifference of the rest of the world, which likes to think it has its own problems without recognizing that almost all its problems are found in the Sudan, and solving them may well lead us to solving the others.
And now he is gravely ill, perhaps dying (though keeping a good thought is clearly in order here). His cause deserves help, and he deserves a thought today, because the word "selfless" seems sadly underwhelming when applied to the Bol case.
He boxed, and he played hockey, and he was a jockey, despite being ill-suited to all those things -- all because someone would pay him money he could send back home. He willingly played the fool because the problems of his homeland far exceeded his need for personal dignity.
And while he has been unable to find the key to deliver the kind of monetary help the nation needs (as if such a thing could be quantified), he did put his body where his mouth is, over and over again. Thus, you see the pictures of him on skates and atop a horse now, and you don't see the clown, you see the dignity. Because there are times when you endure what you must for the greater cause.
It's easy to find a list of NBA people who could lighten Bol's financial load while he works toward health. Mikhail Prokhorov, who just bought the New Jersey Nets and has a history with Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, surely could find his way clear to his checkbook to somehow even the scales a bit. The Wizards and Warriors and 76ers and Heat surely have something they can spare. NBA Cares could show that it does.
But one suspects Bol long ago tried to tap all the sources he could. Some may have come through, some may not. It is possible for someone to do a good deed in this country without making a production of it.
A production has its value, though, and this might be the time to make it. Not because the NBA wastes good money on bad players, or because their guilt demands action, but because one of their own (and one of their very best character studies) is fighting two good fights at once, and deserves more than the flowers one team allegedly sent.
And so could we all, in a proportion that meets our budgets. Money has been given to the Sudan, but the change is infuriatingly incremental.
Manute Bol, though, has spent his time, and his health, trying to save his countrymen from their collective hell, and whether you can see your way clear to writing a check for Sudanese relief, you can spare him a thought on a day when memories are supposed to be prized more than normal. He is a hero at a time when we need all we can get, making an extraordinary sacrifice because only extraordinary sacrifices suffice in a corner of the planet where sacrifice is typically punished with a vengeance.
And even if your thought of him is standing behind the 3-point line and jacking up a shot while exasperating Warriors coach Don Nelson 22 years ago, it'll be something. Because Manute Bol deserves that thought, and more, and it would be nice for it to happen while the man is among us to receive it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.