Madut Bol Rumors
Three years ago, Madut Bol was on break at his Amazon warehouse job — a job he didn’t like — when his old college teammate reached out: Madut’s half brother Bol Bol was playing in an elite showcase that night in New York. Did Madut want to go? Madut had to finish his shift and technically didn’t have any more time to take off. But he didn’t care. He told his boss he was leaving early, then drove 60 miles from Trenton, N.J., to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the site of the showcase. Madut hadn’t seen Bol in four months, and even then, it was for only a minute or two when Bol had played in another showcase in New York. Their conversation after that game had been awkward, distant, like two people who hardly knew each other, which wasn’t far from the truth. This time, Madut didn’t care if Bol knew he was there. “My dad never saw me play,” Madut says. “So, I was like, ‘I don’t want Bol to be on this level and nobody comes to see him play.’”
But more surreal were the ways in which Bol reminded Madut of their father, Manute Bol, the tallest person to ever play in the NBA and one of the league’s great humanitarians. An admirer called him the “Muhammad Ali or Nelson Mandela of his time” for all he had done in South Sudan. “You can look right at (Bol) and tell,” Madut says. “Just the way he walks. People say the same thing to me: ‘You walk like your dad.’ I don’t see it because I’m not looking at me walking. But seeing him walk, he walks just like Dad. Smiles like Dad. Just looks exactly like him.” After the game, Madut drove home without talking to Bol.
For years, he has wanted a relationship with Bol, a second-round pick this year who plays for the Denver Nuggets. He says he wants to be there for him, to help him, guide him and support him — all the things a big brother is supposed to do. But ever since their dad died in 2010, they have rarely spent time together or even spoken. (The Nuggets declined to make Bol available for this story.) The reasons why are complicated and go far beyond their decade in age difference. When Madut was 5 or 6 in the mid-’90s, his dad packed his bags and told him, “I’ll be back.” There was nothing unusual about the moment; Manute traveled all the time. But that time, Madut waited and waited for him to come home. Days turned into weeks. Madut asked his mom where his dad was, but she had no idea either. Weeks turned into months. Madut received no phone calls, no letters or emails. One moment, his dad was his hero, the larger-than-life personality who dominated every room and cracked open Madut’s closed-off personality. The next, he was gone without an explanation. Madut and his brothers and sisters learned about their dad’s new life in Sudan from a 2001 Sports Illustrated story in which Manute talked to a reporter while his second wife, Ajok, cradled their 19-month-old son, Bol.
Madut and Bol Bol are the spitting image of their father, Manute – the 7-7 Dinka tribe anomaly and owner of one of the most ungainly three-point strokes known to man (he once made six treys in a 1993 game at Phoenix while with the Sixers). Manute played 10 years in the NBA for four teams, including two stints in Philadelphia, and his humanitarian work in his native Sudan is world-renowned. Manute was just 47 when he died June 19, 2010, in Charlottesville, Va., of acute kidney failure complicated by a skin disease known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome. He is survived by 10 children – six with his first wife, Atong, four with his second wife, Ajok – including his two basketball-playing sons. Madut Bol, Manute’s eldest son, is a 6-9, 200-pound senior center at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. Bol Bol, 13, is from Olathe, Kan. At 6-4 1/2, he’s considered one of the best in the country in his age group.
Bol is being mentored by Val Reyes, his AAU coach. Reyes has received job offers from all over the country, suggesting that he move and bring Bol with him. He plans to stay put. Reyes, the father of six boys, has been like a second dad to Bol. “Bol’s first practice, he was around 8 or 9 and scared to go to the gym,” Reyes recalled. “I told him before he went in to tell everyone he’s Bol Bol, Manute Bol’s son, and since then, he’s been fine. He just wants to be himself. He likes to have fun. We were in a tournament in Houston and he came jumping out at me in the dark like a spider one time. It’s exactly something his father would do. He likes to play and joke around. I couldn’t care less whether he plays basketball or not. I made a promise to his father. “I just want Bol to be successful at anything he wants to do. Education is the most important thing, because Manute was building schools in the Sudan for children. I bring it up to Bol; how would it look if he didn’t follow up with his own education? I’ve stressed to him that his father would want him to graduate college.”
Madut and his family struggled financially, wondering where Manute’s money was going, why he wasn’t there to help. It caused friction between him and his oldest son. Plus, Manute never seemed to be around during Madut’s formative years. At the time, Madut thought the NBA life was taking his father away. He didn’t realize the sacrifice Manute was making. “We had an up-and-down relationship. I was upset because he was never around; we lost touch for a couple of years,” Madut said. “I visited him when he used to live in Connecticut and I forgave him – and from there, it was still up-and-down. It was small things. He wanted to be more a part of my life. I used to wonder where he was earlier in my life, why he wasn’t there then.”
It was too late. Just as he was walking out of the house, Madut received the call that his father had died. He made it for the funeral. Each morning, Madut wakes up to look at a picture of his father prominently placed on his apartment wall. He carries a picture of his dad in his wallet, a shot of a Sudanese sunset that includes his father’s name, date of birth and death. He also lugs something else. “Every day I wake up just feeling guilty, even though people tell me I shouldn’t,” Madut said. “I think he wanted to be more a part of my life. I forgave him. I wake up and think about him and let him know that I’m sorry. I do feel guilty. I wasn’t able to be there.”