Manute Bol retired from basketball in 1995 at the age of 32, or so we’ve been led to believe.
The college basketball coach who brought Bol to the United States in the mid-1980s — now a scout for the Indiana Pacers — told zagsblog.com’s Adam Zagoria that he made up the 7-foot-7 center’s widely recognized birthday, October, 16, 1962, soon after flying him into the country for a recruiting visit.
“I gave him his birthday because they didn’t know how old he was,” former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey told Zagoria.
“[Bol] had no idea of his age and the kid who came over with him didn’t know how old he was. No one knew how old he was.
“The immigration people were in the office [at Cleveland State] and they thought it was great. They loved it. And they were big fans of Cleveland State, they used to come to all our games. They wanted to cover themselves because Manute was starting to get so much publicity. His picture was in the paper. He was on the 6 o’clock news because he was a such a different looking guy than everyone else. At that time, no one had ever seen anything like it.”
Bol never played for Mackey at Cleveland State, although the program was placed on probation in the late 1980s for allegedly paying Bol and other African-born players. (Both Mackey and Bol denied those claims.) Instead, Bol played one season at the University of Bridgeport, averaging 22.5 points, 13.5 rebound and 7.1 blocks per game at the Division II level in 1984-85, when his allegedly made-up birthday would have listed him at 22 years old and Mackey believes he might have been closer to 40.
“Every athletic door is open at 19, every athletic door is closed when you’re 35,” added Mackey. “He was probably 40, 50 years old when he was playing in the NBA.”
Nat Hickey is listed as the oldest player in history at age 45 after playing just two games in 1947 for the Providence Steamrollers in the pre-NBA Basketball Association of America. Former Atlanta Hawks All-Star Kevin Willis played until age 44 from 1984-2007. Either way, this would make Bol the oldest NBA player ever.
The Washington Bullets drafted Bol 31st overall in 1985, when they presumably believed he was 23. He played 10 seasons for the Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and (briefly) the Miami Heat, leading the league in blocks twice, making the 1986 All-Defensive Second Team and doing this:
Bol retired from the NBA in 1995 and played briefly in Qatar before calling it quits in 1998 due to bouts with rheumatism in both of his knees and wrists. He died on June 29, 2010, as a result of complications from Stevens-Johnson syndrome. The birthday Mackey gave Bol would have made him 47 years old.
This isn’t the first time someone has raised questions about Bol’s age. Just last year, former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams shared this story about his former Sixers teammate on a Vice Sports podcast:
Bol was listed at 28 years old when he began playing for the Sixers in 1990, but Williams believes he was actually twice that age. “He used to say that he was 35 years old, but I used to be on the bench looking at all the circles and scars around his head,” explained Williams, “and I asked him one day, ‘Manute, what are those scars on your head?’ And he says, ‘Well, the white man lost my birth certificate in the jungle, so every five years I take a rock and I slice one across my head.’ I was like, ‘All right,’ and then I started looking at it the next game and I said, ‘Holy s—, Manute Bol is 55 years old.’”
Bol is survived by his 10 children, including 7-foot-2 Bol Bol, a a five-star recruit who just signed with the University of Oregon this week. Bol Bol was born in South Sudan and is listed at 18 years old.
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