TURALEI, Sudan (Reuters) - Basketball star Manute Bol was buried in his family’s home town in south Sudan on Sunday and hundreds of mourners paid tribute to the man whose talent took him from the grazing lands of Africa to NBA fame.
Sudan-born Bol, a phenomenon through 10 NBA seasons thanks to his 7-foot, 7-inch (2.31-metre) frame and ability to block opponents’ shots, died in a U.S. hospital on June 19 aged 47.
Bol herded his family’s cattle in south Sudan as a boy and was spotted playing basketball in Khartoum by a visiting U.S. coach. After his NBA career he continued to focus his time and wealth on humanitarian work in his underdeveloped homeland.
The charity he worked with building schools said the cause of death was kidney failure and a painful skin disease, Stevens- Johnson syndrome, which worsened after his last trip to Sudan during the country’s April elections.
A plane carrying Bol’s body arrived in south Sudan’s capital Juba on Saturday. On Sunday, members of his extended family and local politicians accompanied Bol’s remains on a two-hour plane ride and four-hour road trek to Turalei, his remote home town in the region’s Warrap state.
“There are lots of family here, lots of people who loved him very much ... He gave his life for south Sudan,” Bol’s wife Ajok Deng told Reuters before the burial.
“We are here because he told me ‘I want to be buried next to my grandfather’. We’re here to go according to his will.”
His wife said she was planning to stay in Sudan for a few days with their three sons and one daughter before returning to their U.S. home in Olathe, Kansas.
Hundreds of people from surrounding villages walked to Turalei for the burial and lined the road from outside the settlement right up to his family’s mud-walled hut.
Young men carried pictures of the sports star and a local basketball team accompanied the coffin that was lowered into the grave lined with cattle hides.
Locals would continue slaughtering bulls in his honour until Tuesday, as part of the funeral rites that mixed Christianity with Dinka tribal custom, said Bol’s brother Nicola, adding: “He will be remembered for all the charity work he did in Sudan.”
Bol, who played for Washington, Golden State, Philadelphia and Miami, is tied for the record as the tallest person to play in the NBA. He also owns the career record for most blocked shots per 48 minutes of playing time.
South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir paid tribute to Bol’s work during a Catholic requiem mass in Juba on Saturday, saying he supported the region during its decades-long civil war with north Sudan.
The oil-producing territory is just over six months away from the scheduled start of a referendum on whether it should split away from Sudan as an independent country, a vote promised under the 2005 accord that ended the civil war.