WASHINGTON — Manute Bol is the athletic Grand Canyon. Even if you have come to terms with a 6-foot 9-inch point guard in basketball, or have argued at some length with a standing-tall Wilt Chamberlain, seeing Bol up close for the first time is memorable. Like the price of houses, he keeps going up.
He is the tallest player in the history of professional tallball. At 7-6 or so, he can dunk a basketball without rising much beyond tippytoes; unfortunately for Bol, guiding the ball through a hoop once the games begin still is largely a mystery.
The Bullets gambled three years ago that Bol could score enough eventually to be useful for significant and frequent minutes; by trading him to Golden State, they now are betting he will remain stagnant offensively under the still-awed Don Nelson.
Golden State's Nelson said after Wednesday's trade what Bullets officials did after drafting Bol out of lightly regarded Bridgeport University: "His dominance of the game intrigues me."
It intrigued the Bullets' general manager, Bob Ferry, and their coach at the time, Gene Shue; it was much less exciting to the next coach, Kevin Loughery; it barely stirred more than a yawn with the present coach, Wes Unseld.
Gimme some body-rattling rebounds, not a showy blocked shot now and then, Unseld surely indicated to Ferry. And the fellow coming this way, Dave Feitl, is half a foot shorter than Bol but did lead the terminally terrible Warriors in rebounding 15 times.
Because Moses Malone can determine his own future, Feitl is at least emergency insurance at center if the free agent bolts the Bullets.
As it developed, Bol was more useful to the Bullets off the court than on. He attracted attention to a team deeply in need of it, his personality being nearly as infectious as his size is intimidating.
The lifesize cardboard cutouts of 'Nute will be a nice reminder of an athlete who takes neither himself nor his sport too seriously. The latter may have bothered Unseld, for no player in memory is more casual at the free throw line than Bol.
If memories of the innocent and outgoing Bol bring a smile to Ferry, reminders of the day he became a Bullet do not. On June 18, 1985, Ferry drafted non-factor Kenny Green on the first round and Bol on the second. At least Bol was a reasonable reach.
Critics of Ferry are quick to name some players drafted between 12th choice Green and and 31st selection Bol: Karl Malone (13), Joe Dumars (18), Terry Catledge (21) and Terry Porter (24).
Chosen after Bol were two highly useful players, the Tulane John Williams and Gerald Wilkins, the talented younger brother of Dominique. And a player regarded as even more of a long shot than Bol-Arvidas Sabonis.
They were linked again Thursday, newsy twin towers at the top of the sports page, Bol for being traded and Soviet Sabonis for rehab work with the team that holds his NBA rights, Portland.
If Bol no longer was regarded as important to the Bullets, he did fetch a bit more than he cost. In addition to Feitl, Golden State shipped a second-round choice in 1989.
But Bol's size is the only thing huge about the trade. Otherwise, it seems a swap of bit players. Even Nelson said he sees Bol's role next season as no more than a backup. For one of the few times in his life, 7-4 Ralph Sampson will have someone to look up to.
Many of us remain fascinated with Bol and hope Nelson has more patience with him than Unseld did; the harsh reminder is that while Bol would do something fine three times a game on defense he might not offer anything positive on offense three times a month.
Eagerly awaited are other moves that will affect the Bullets more than a player who rarely played, who was not even trusted to harass an opponent throwing the ball inbounds in the final seconds of tight games.
Does this mean the other half of Ferry's basketball sideshow, 5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues, also is about to be shipped elsewhere? Unseld became less and less enchanted with Bogues, who apparently did not pack his jump shot when he left Wake Forest.
Ferry bashers chuckle and say it's easy to figure who the Bullets will draft. Because he has chosen three of the four quality players Wake Forest has produced lately on the first round, Ferry once more surely will go with the best available Demon Deacon.
Except for Green, however, Ferry's recent choices have seemed decent enough on draft day. It's hindsight that keeps battering him, such as Mark Jackson being taken six picks below Bogues and becoming unanimous rookie of the year.
The story reporting Bol's trade quoted a league source as saying about the Bullets: "I think they really want to change their team. I don't believe they're going to stand pat."
What else is new?
The Bullets get overhauled more often than a pickup bouncing across the Baja. Frequently, the new parts are flashy but with a whole lot of wear. And yet they offered more competition to the Pistons these playoffs than either the Bulls or Celtics.
Whether Bogues stays probably will be determined by how Ferry and Unseld reconstruct the Bullets. If the team is structured to rebound and run, he can be productive. He was not put on earth to direct half-court games.