Home | News    Saturday 18 October 2003

Former NBA center visits horsetrack to help Sudanese foundation

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Manute Bol, left, holds the bridle of Alpena Magic before the start of the first race at Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 18, 2003. The 7-foot-7 former NBA center, who has used publicity from ventures into boxing and hockey to raise money for refugees in his native Sudan, is now the tallest jockey ever licensed by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission. Bol is not scheduled to compete in any of the 13 races Saturday night because of arthritis in his creaky joints. But after watching a few races from the sideline, he will be invited to the winner’s circle. Tom Strattman, AP Photo

INDIANAPOLIS, Oct. 18, 2003 (AP) — Manute Bol used to be the tallest man in professional basketball. Now he’s creating another tall tale, this time at a horse racing track.

The 7-foot-7 (231-centimeter) former NBA center, who also used publicity from ventures into boxing and hockey to raise money for refugees in his native Sudan, is now the tallest jockey ever licensed by the Indiana Horse Racing Commission.

The commission on Friday gave him an honorary license to compete at Hoosier Park, a thoroughbred track about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Indianapolis.

He won’t compete in any of the 13 races Saturday night because of arthritis in his creaky joints. But after watching a few races from the sideline, he will be invited to the winner’s circle.

″He’s almost become the new great impostor,’’ Hoosier Park spokesman Tom Bannon said. ″He’s taking on these new roles and letting us all have fun with him doing it.’’

The stunt is hardly the first on Bol’s resume or the last for his Ring True Foundation, the Connecticut-based nonprofit group he started with his cousin Ed ``Ring’’ Bona a year ago to aid refugees.

``I think it’ll open up his cause to a group that he wouldn’t normally reach,’’ jockey Otto Thorwarth said. ``I’ve been trying to talk him into getting on a horse, but he won’t do it.’’

Bol, 42, who retired in 1996 after 11 seasons with four NBA teams, doesn’t want the publicity events to dwarf larger issues of war and instability in his homeland.

″I wanted to raise awareness for my foundation,’’ Bol said. ″That’s the only way I can raise the money sometimes, by doing this.’’

A life in the United States has afforded Bol, the son and grandson of Dinka tribesmen, many luxuries. As a rookie, Bol used his spindly arms to block 397 shots — the most in a single season — and furnish homes in the United States, Sudan and Egypt.

But Bol was never far from the problems in his homeland. He testified at congressional hearings in the mid-1990s against the Islamic extremists who controlled the Sudanese government. He also sent $3.5 million of his own money to the Sudanese rebel movement in which some of his relatives were fighting.

″I feel that if I was at home in Sudan, I would be facing the same thing,’’ Bol said. ″And at that time, we didn’t have a lot of concern about it in this country, so I tried to make noise about it.’’

A year after retiring, Bol returned to Sudan, hoping to play a role in the new government established after a peace treaty. When he was denied a government job, Sudanese authorities refused to give him permission to leave the country.

He spent the next four years in Sudan before escaping to Egypt in 2001, and he returned to the United States a year later.

The journey has left Bol all but impoverished.

Any money he makes now goes straight to his foundation.

Bol’s previous publicity events included dressing in full pads and size 16 1/2 skates for a minor-league hockey game with the Indianapolis Ice. Bol spent less than a period on the bench during the game and never reached the ice.

A celebrity boxing match pitted Bol against former football star William ``The Refrigerator’’ Perry, once the heaviest in the NFL.

Bol has offered his Ice goalie helmet and other props for a Saturday night auction to benefit the foundation.

These days, Bol isn’t as concerned with making rent — Catholic Charities takes care of that — as he is getting the word out about the plight of his countrymen.

″It’s cost me a lot,’’ Bol said. ``But I don’t feel bad about it.’’

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