The Warriors play the Chicago Bulls tonight at Oracle and it’s Manute Bol bobblehead night. I don’t usually get too hyped for bobblehead giveaways, but I’m very excited for Manute Bol bobblehead night. Incredibly excited as a matter of fact. Excited enough that I might just have to get in my car and drive to the game tonight – or at least go on eBay tomorrow morning and buy one. Either way, I figure this gives me an opportunity to talk about the Warriors of my youth and the awesomeness that was Manute Bol. If anything, it’s an excuse to look back at old pictures and videos of Manute and reminisce.
“Big deal,” you young whippersnappers might say. “Man-yute Ball? Wasn’t he that really tall guy from Africa or something?”
“So, what? Why should I care?”
You shut your face hole, young whippersnapper. You shut your face hole RIGHT NOW. Go back to your Face Chat Snap Time app and let the grown folks alone for a spell so we can talk some Manute.
Thinking of Manute Bol always puts a smile on my face. I’m immediately taken back to a place in time when my perception of the NBA started to shift from a national level to a local obsession. For me, a child of the 80’s, my introduction to the NBA was different than it was for the NFL and MLB. The 49ers were kings around here. Undisputed kings. They were the Lakers and the Celtics of that era and they were right here in our backyard. I became a 49ers fan first, then learned about the rest of the NFL. It was the complete opposite for the NBA. For years I watched teams from other cities like Boston and Los Angeles dominate the NBA landscape. Michael Jordan was a God. His Airness singlehandedly made a new generation of NBA fans, myself included. The Warriors were around, but they were old and boring, 10+ years removed from an NBA championship. For me, it might as well have been 50 years. I had no interest in them, no connection.
Then came 1988 and some things started to come together for the Warriors. Chris Mullin was really coming into his own, averaging 26.5 points per game. Mullin was getting noticed. He was a poor man’s Larry Bird, who you could potentially see making the all star team at some point. Mitch Richmond came in and made an immediate impact, winning Rookie of the Year. They fit in well with guys like Winston Garland, Rod Higgins, and Terry Teagle. The next year Tim Hardaway and his killer crossover arrived, along with Sarunas Marciulionis. All of a sudden my local team had some juice. It was the birth of Run TMC. Nellie Ball. Small lineups. Offense the calling card, defense the punchline. And a run of four playoff births in six seasons. I plugged in and formed a bond with the Warriors and got annoyed with my friends who chose to align with the Bulls or Lakers. Those rat bastards.
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had outside of college. Because in the pros it’s just different. Family, kids, it’s just different. College is always the best, but that was the closest to a college team that I ever played on in the NBA. It was a lot of fun, great characters, fun team, fun style of basketball. We didn’t win anything, but it was fun to be a part of. It shows you how much Run TMC resonates here in the Bay Area … they only played like two years, like two and a half years together. That was it and people still talk about that team like they were together for a decade.”
For the NBA, the late 80’s/early 90’s was a golden era overlapping the end of another golden era. Magic and Bird giving way to Air Jordan in his prime. Epic playoff battles. Iconic shots. Must-see slam dunk contests. Nuthugger shorts and high socks. The Round Mound of Rebound, The Human Highlight Reel, Hakeem the Dream, Clyde the Glide, The Admiral, The Mailman, Spud, Muggsy, and Manute Bol. This was a league with characters. A league of heroes, heels, and court jesters. It was a time when hall of famers and human oddities had a place on the same roster.
At 7′ 7″, 200 lbs, Manute Bol was the quintessential physical oddity/fan favorite of the era. Manute was only in Oakland for two years, but it seemed like much longer than that. If you were a fan of this era of Warriors basketball, it’s no surprise he remains relevant to this day. He wasn’t a special player, but he was a special man. A freak of nature with a personality to match. He was Gheorghe Muresan with a pretty face. He was Shawn Bradley with an edge. He was Chuck Nevitt with a handle and a propensity for raining threes from waaaaaay downtown.
Besides the oddity of watching a seven foot seven human, all arms and legs, flailing about on the court, Manute had a sense of joy for the game that was immediately apparent. You might say he had a flare, an air of showmanship about him, that was all the more entertaining because honestly he just wasn’t that good of a player.
“He was quite a character. I mean, just the odds of him ever playing in the NBA, after where he came from … not a chance.”
Manute may not have been an all star, or even a starting caliber player in the NBA, but he did change the game when he was on the floor. He averaged 3.7 blocks per game as Warrior and kept countless drives to the hoop from ever happening.
“He was perfect for Nellie, because we used to play kind of a 1-3-1 zone, even before you weren’t supposed to play zones, we figured out a way to play zones, and he’d just put him in the back there and … seven foot seven! I mean, the man could touch the rim without jumping. He just stood there and he could grab the rim without jumping at all.”
When people talk about Manute, they always mention the three-pointers. Nute attempted 205 threes in his career and each one was a joy to behold. With arms longer than pool cues, Nute had a shooting style that was … unconventional, at best. But everyone loved watching him shoot from long range, and he made just enough of them (career 21% from long range) to hang out beyond the arc and get the occasional pass from teammates.
“It was funny because when he shot the threes during the game, it was the ultimate NO NO NO! YES YES YES! moment, like NOOOOOOO…YEAAAAAH! WOOO! And Nute didn’t just shoot threes, they were like three or four feet behind the line … it was like, there’s no way that’s going … oh, my goodness gracious, that went in!”
Here’s Nute with the Philadelphia 76ers hitting six three pointers in one game against the Suns in 1993.
According to Tolbert, who spent a segment yesterday talking about Manute on KNBR, Nute’s three pointers became part of a ritual at some practices.
“We’d be at practice and Nellie would want to give us the day off, so he would say, Manute, grab a ball, get over here. If you make it practice is over. Everybody would be standing around going, c’mon, Nute! Yeah, Nute! C’mon! and he’d make it and Nellie would be like, alright we’re done. See’ya. And he’d grab his dog and walk back out the door and practice would be over. But as much fun as we had together, we usually stayed around anyway.”
One of the memorable moments of that 1988-89 season was Manute hitting a clutch three against the Utah Jazz in the playoffs.
The Warriors went on to sweep the Jazz in three games. They would only win one game in the next round against the Phoenix Suns, but Manute left his mark, leading the playoffs with 29 blocks. He was also just 2/22 in the 88-89 playoffs from beyond the three point line, but we won’t talk about that. MOVE ALONG. NOTHING TO SEE HERE.
While three pointers and blocked shots were his calling card (he led the league in 1988-99 with 345 blocks while only playing 22 minutes per game), my favorite Nute moments were when he’d go behind the back and through the legs for a simple outlet pass. There was no reason for it. It was completely unnecessary, but it was totally Nute and we loved it.
Off the court, Manute was (everybody say it with me now) LITERALLY larger than life. Sifting through a Google image search on Nute is a glorious ride through a different time in the NBA. The man had an infectious smile and a wit to match his unique figure. While he was in reality just a bit player for most of his NBA career, Manute was such an incredible specimen of a human being, he was always the focus of attention on and off the court. The camera loved him.
I’ll never forget this shot of Manute swimming.
Here’s Manute in college. He played just one year at University of Bridgeport before going to the NBA.
Here’s Manute shooting a three in his signature side-armed double slingshot style. (I just made that up)
Here’s Manute with Chris Mullin, who by all reports was his best and closest friend from the NBA. The ultimate odd couple.
“Manute was actually a pretty good pool player. Him and Mully would go down to the Harbor Bay club and play pool and I believe he was the one who gave Mully the nickname ‘Chalk.’ Which was just an awesome nickname.”
By all accounts, Manute was a great teammate and also one of the funniest guys in the NBA. He was a prankster and practical joker. His exchanges with Charles Barkley, both as a teammate and an opponent, were legendary.
Some of the best Manute pictures feature him paired with the other physical freaks of the era, Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues. Again, none of these guys were great players, but the physical oddities and the juxtaposition of seeing these players next to each other on and off the court was too much for photographers to pass up.
And just because this popped up in my search and it’s too good not to share, here’s Gheorghe Muresan preparing to box out Timmy Hardaway for a rebound.
Love this one…
“On airplanes, Manute would always sit in the bulkhead, always aisle of the bulkhead, so he could stick his legs into the galley where the flight attendants would have to walk. And he would never take his jacket off when he was flying. He’d keep the jacket on and he had this one suit that was all burgundy … that’s a lot of burgundy. A lot of damn burgundy. That seven feet, seven inches of burgundy. And the jacket stayed on throughout the entire flight. And shoes. He had alligator shoes that were size 22. I think they just cut the tail and the head off and said here’s your shoes.”
Seriously though … look at those shoes!
You get the point. This was a large, photogenic man.
Okay, one more story from Tom Tolbert before I wrap this up…
“One thing I’ll always remember about Nute was the people mover, when he was on the people mover coming out of the airport. To see Manute on the people mover. Seven foot seven, legs like a giraffe, and you could tell he’d start getting apprehensive as soon as he saw where it stopped and he had to kind of gauge it, you know, and catch it in stride. And we’d get off the people mover and turn around and go, here he comes … five bucks he goes down this time … who wants it? Anybody? Five bucks he goes down. And he’d go to get off and the knees would buckle and everybody would go crazy. He saved it! He saved it! And he’d look over at you and say, ‘screw you, Tom, screw you, Tolbert.'”
I can totally hear Nute saying “Screw you, Tolbert.” Hahaha.
As for the bobblehead itself, the thing looks pretty damn sweet to me. The Warriors are touting it as “the tallest bobblehead in Warriors history.”
Damn right it is.
If you’re interested, the Warriors did a short ‘Making of the Bobblehead’ video here.
For those of you going to the game tonight – at least the first 10,000 of you — I hope this gave you a little context for why fans of a certain age love Manute Bol so much. I hope you hang on to that bobblehead. Display it proudly in your office or your man cave or your woman cave or whatever.
Nute was a great entertainer and a special man. And I miss him.
p.s. If you’re not going to keep that bobblehead let me know. I’d be willing to take it off your hands for a decent price. /wink