Dinka: The Basketball Tribe

Manute Bol
Manute Bol is the tallest player in NBA history.

On June 21st, 2019, the Denver Nuggets selected Bol Bol with the 44th pick of the NBA draft. He is the son of Manute Bol, who spent 11 years in the league and is the league´s second-leading all-time shot blocker. Scouts and executives view Bol Bol as much more skilled than his father, but he is not nearly as tall. He is 7 ft 2 (218 cm). His late father stood 7 ft 7 (231cm) and is the tallest player in NBA history. Other than their extraordinary height, the names stand out. They are Dinka, one of the tallest groups of humans on the planet.

The Dinka are the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan, and are, together with the Tutsi of Rwanda, believed to be tallest people in Africa. Because of this, many Dinka have been recruited to play basketball around the world, and particularly in the United States, both collegiately and professionally. The most successful, Luol Deng, was even a two time NBA All-Star. Like many other Dinka, he was raised outside what is now South Sudan, as his family fled the Sudanese Civil War when Deng was young. He grew up in the UK before attending high school in the United States and played his college basketball at legendary Duke University.

Luol Deng
Luol Deng is a former South Sudanese-British NBA player. Photo by: Who’s The Bet?

Bol Bol was born in Sudan, but after the outbreak of the civil war, the family fled to Egypt, before arriving in the United States, when Bol Bol was two, as political refugees. Manute Bol was renowned for his charitable and human rights work in Sudan, and was immensely popular in his home country. However, when he was offered the position of Minister of Sports, he declined as one of the requirements were that he convert from Christianity to Islam.

Manute grew up in a family of cow herders before basketball took him to the United States. Despite his slight frame and lack of actual basketball skill, his height and timing allowed him to have a major impact during his lengthy NBA career.

Bol, however, longed for his home country and worried about his people. He pleaded to the United States to intervene to stop the atrocities committed by the Sudanese government against his tribe, and nearly lost all of his fortune in an effort to help his country and people.

After his career, Manute moved back home, but was later accused of being an American spy and supporter of the Dinka-led rebels, so he fled Sudan with his family. From abroad, Manute continued his tireless work for South Sudan (where the Dinka mainly live), helping to shed to light on the conflict through his fame.  He died in 2010. In 2011, South Sudan became an independent country.

 

 

Manute Bol´s successful basketball career, as well as his work of the court, opened a door to education and professional sports for a people long-suffering from poverty, war, and discrimination.  While Manute, his son, and Luol Deng are the poster boys for Dinka basketball, there are many others.  Wenyen Gabriel plays in the NBA, as does Thon Maker, and his brother plays professionally as well. There is Ater Majok, who had a successful college career in the United States before playing professionally around the world, and his brother, who also played collegiately.

These are the household names, if you will, but perhaps the names you don’t know are even more important. Not everyone is lucky enough to play sports professionally, but many Dinka have, and continue to, receive college scholarships in the United States, giving them an education that can help not just themselves, but the people and country they left behind in search of better opportunities.

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