Manute was a majestic presence. It wasn't just his height but the fact that he emanated all the emotional pain he has witnessed, the physical pain that he bore, and the dogged determination that he represented. He was so much more than an NBA legend. He was living proof that none of us could ever claim that we had a bad day. Manute had seen so much more than any of us and he triumphed. He said he was going to build reconciliation schools in southern Sudan. This from a man who lost 250 members of his own family from religious violence. He put together schools taught by Christians and Muslims for children who were Christian and Muslim. They would learn and study under the shade of trees, using sticks and rocks to write. Manute moved forward to build the first school with the help of volunteers from all faiths. The builders learned to make bricks in a town that had a shortage of water and no electricity, no infrastructure and no contact with the outside world.
I was with him at three fundraisers. The last time he was wheel-chair bound in Rochester. He couldn't stand up and he listened as the kids each came up to the microphone and asked the litany of questions about "how tall are you." He actually loved it. But when a little girl told him and her schoolmates that she understood him because she had childhood arthritis he looked back at Rev. Tom Prichard and me and said, "help me stand up. Let them see me standing up."
So few know about southern Sudan but they wanted to help Manute. We had huge fundraisers scheduled in DC, Miami, and Houston. There were plans for Albany. But they all had to be canceled because he was needed in the Sudan to assist the independence forces during the recent election. But frankly he was also just too ill to travel.
I will never know how he carried on with so many physical problems but I do know that if a man's wealth can be measured by endurance of pain, determination to help the poorest of his friends and family as well as total strangers, and the dignity to carry on against all odds, Manute is the richest man ever to have played in the NBA.
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