Some of you may have noticed that the former NBA player Manute Bol died, at the age of 47, a few weeks ago. The sports world paid little attention. Bol was not known for stardom but for being a physical freak. He stood 7 feet, seven inches tall and weighed 225. He was both the tallest and thinnest player in the NBA. He averaged only 2.6 points per game over the course of his career, though he did excel at shot blocking given his towering presence.
Bol earned $6 million playing basketball. When his fortune was used up the Sudanese native became a humorous spectacle in order to raise more money. He was hired to be a horse jockey, a hockey player and a celebrity boxer.
Wall Street Journal writer Jon A Shields, assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, noted that “Bol agreed to be a clown. But he was not mocked for his own personal gain as so many reality-television stars are. Bol let himself be ridiculed on behalf of suffering strangers in the Sudan.” You see, Manute Bol was a radically committed follower of Jesus Christ. He raised money to help his neighbors in Sudan and thus gave his life to obey the first and second great commandments. While doing relief work in Sudan Manute Bol contracted a painful skin disease that ultimately contributed to his death. Bol literally gave his life for others.
Obituaries, and ESPN commentators, described Manute Bol as a humanitarian, not a Christian. But this is not unusual. The same sports journalists describe men like David Robinson, A.C. Green and Dwight Howard as “good guys” rather than as Christians. I am not surprised. These men, like Manute Bol, are willing to let their light shine in the dark world of the NBA where martial infidelity is common and consumption seems to be the shining glitter the sport offers, specially to previously poor black athletes.
Jon Shields noted, in his Wall Street Journal article about Bol’s passing, that “he was a fool for Christ.” What a great witness to leave behind. Eternity will notice even if the sports world did not. In the passing of Manute Bol another witness to Jesus Christ died a martyr’s death and the world was not paying attention. Why should we think they would?