NBA Legend Manute Bol Finds 'Home' in Kansas

Sudanese former NBA star Manute Bol has found a sense of home in Olathe, Kan., where there is a large Southern Sudanese community. Bol talks about the hope for peace in his country and shares his thoughts on professional basketball.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

On the basketball court, Manute Bol was the big man - or should we say the tall man - in the middle. At seven-foot-seven, the center from Sudan was once the NBA's tallest player. Many people may remember him for his days on the court. Not so well-known might be his tireless commitment to helping other Sudanese people. He still draws a crowd, but on a smaller scale, in his adopted home of Olathe, Kansas - yes, that Kansas.

And he joins us now by phone to talk about his community there, and the one in his troubled homeland in Sudan that he and others are trying to help.

Mr. MANUTE BOL (Former NBA Player): Oh, thank you. Thank you for having me.

CORLEY: Yes. Well, you know, a lot of people might think of Olathe, Kansas, as a strange place for a basketball star to retire. So why did you choose to go there?

Mr. BOL: Oh, I've got a lot of people - you know, Kansas has got a lot of good players, you know? You know, Danny Manning graduated here, Paul Pierce, and those guys, you know, they went to school here, and they play in the NBA.

But, you know, I got a lot of people from southern Sudan, and also I got a lot of cousin here. I got three sisters that live here. I got a lot of my hometown people who live around here, so it's a big community, you know? That's the reason why I want to move on here and live with them and, you know, we can work out the thing down in southern Sudan and also in Darfur.

CORLEY: Well, the - I want to talk to you about that a little bit, but first I wanted to ask you something a little bit more personal. I wanted to ask you about your health. You've gone through quite an ordeal since you left the basketball court professionally. You were injured in a severe car accident a few years back. How are you doing?

Mr. BOL: I'm doing okay. I'm a doing better than before. Years - three years ago, I was in a very bad car accident. I was in a coma for one month, and I was in the hospital for six months. And I'm doing okay, you know, I'm doing better now, but I still deal with the pain, you know.

CORLEY: All right. I wanted to know a little bit more about southern Sudan and where you're from, and the cultural differences in that part of the country. Since we hear so much these days about Darfur, what about your area? What's that like?

Mr. BOL: In my area, people forget, you know, what happened to southern Sudan. People are still struggling now. They need the development. Since the war that started in 1983, there've been not - no education, no development, no health care, and people have been fighting almost 20 years. And, you know, Darfur is a part of Sudan. (unintelligible) our government in Southern Sudan, we wanted something there. They wanted something to be done in Darfur, you know?

CORLEY: Yes.

Mr. BOL: Because a year of peace in Darfur or Sudan become peaceable, I don't want the Darfurian to be forgotten, like what they did to us. We were telling people that what's going on in Sudan, what's going on in Sudan is genocide.

CORLEY: So you're saying that the U.S. should have been much more involved with Africa.

Mr. BOL: Exactly. You know, right now, the international community, there were saying that, you know, what's going on isn't - George Bush say that what's going on in Darfur is genocide, and this is what happened in southern Sudan before the war - the genocide, slavery and everything. And people was going to kill the same way that they did in Darfur.

CORLEY: You've mentioned a number of things that you thought were needed in your homeland. You made a lot of money playing in the NBA, and you spent most of it, if not all, supporting people in your homeland. Out of the things that you mentioned that are needed, what's the biggest need, you think, needs to be addressed?

Mr. BOL: The bigger problem now, you know, is education, health care, road and literacy. The government we have right now is a unity government, to until the year 2008, people are going to vote, you know? See, we want unity over separation. But right now, nothing can go to southern Sudan because, Sudan still in terror list, and that's what they want, and nothing's been done. Nothing has been done in southern Sudan until now. So you cannot give anything to southern Sudan without, you know, going through the Sudan. So…

CORLEY: Right. So it's difficult.

Mr. BOL: …we have a problem.

CORLEY: Yeah, it's very difficult. Well, let me take you back to basketball, because you played for a handful of teams in the United States, and that's a lot of travel. I'm sure it's nice to stay in one place for a while. I was wondering if you miss playing for the NBA.

Mr. BOL: No, I don't miss it that much, you know, because I watch it now. NBA give me a life, made a good life, and still now, they're still supporting me. You know, when I came back from, you know, from Sudan, the NBA (unintelligible), you know, they helped me out. So I'm a part of NBA now, and I love it. I love to watch it, and I'm enjoying it now because I had a good time, you know, during that time when I was playing.

CORLEY: All right. Well, thank you so much.

Mr. BOL: Thank you so much.

CORLEY: Thank you. Manute Bol, former NBA star and activist for peace in Sudan. He joined us by phone from Olathe, Kansas.

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