There was more than a sense of sportsmanship and athleticism in the air this week when the Black Stars Basketball Club beat three other teams to win the inaugural Manute Bol tournament in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.
"The theme of this tournament is that sport can unite us," said Nicola Bol, a cousin of the late Manute Bol and one of the organizers of the tournament.
"Basketball is one of the most popular sports in South Sudan, and if you look around today, these spectators are from all the races of South Sudan. That is what it means: bringing them together to share something they love, which is basketball," he said.
Nicola Bol’s wife, Achuei Chol, was the lead organizer of the tournament. She brought medals and a basketball-shaped trophy from the United States for the players. She also put up 5,000 South Sudanese pounds for the winning team, the Black Stars. Chol said the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports, Nadia Arop Dudi, presented the players with certificates after the tournament final on Thursday.
Chol said she and the other organizers are planning for the tournament to become an annual event to take place on June 19 -- the day Manute Bol died in 2010 of acute kidney failure and Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare, serious disorder of the skin and mucous membranes.
Chol said getting South Sudanese to unite through basketball was Manute Bol’s dream.
"Manute had a mission. His dream was basketball is education in the country. He wanted a better life, a better country, a better future for the youth of South Sudan and the community of South Sudan," she said.
The organizers plan to invite teams from all 10 South Sudanese states for next year’s tournament. They are also trying to convince teams from other countries, and maybe even some of Manute Bol’s former NBA teammates, to make the trip to South Sudan to take part in future tournaments to remember one of South Sudan’s giants, on and off the court.
At 7 feet and 7 inches, Manute Bol was one of the two tallest players in the NBA, where he played for four teams over 10 years.