The little kid peered through the window of the Washington Bullets downtown ticket office, straining for a glimpse of Manute Bol, the Dinka tribesman and basketball player who was on display inside.
"I can't see him," the boy whined.
"Look, up there," people pointed.
"Where? Where?" cried the kid.
"Up by the ceiling," someone shouted.
And sure enough, there he was, Manute Bol, his 7-foot, 6-inch frame folded up like a praying mantis in a corner. Suddenly, he moved.
"Oh my Lord!" cried a building custodian, clutching her blue apron and holding her heart. "Stilts," cried the kid. "He's walking on stilts."
Disbelief filled the air as Washington was introduced to yet another "Big Man" in basketball Friday afternoon.
Manute Bol, a 190-pound Sudanese shepherd who once killed a lion with a spear, had come to Washington to play basketball for the Bullets. Believe it or not.
"I don't believe it," said the custodian. "You can't be that tall and be that skinny and still be alive."
"If he goes up against Moses Malone, he will be killed," an associate said.
Bol might have arrived right out of the pages of National Geographic, a celebrated tribesman who had traded in his spear for a basketball. For the spectators, there really was no frame of reference for this kind of a transformation, and for every reason anyone could think of that it wouldn't work there were other reasons that it might.
For one, Bol's appearance is deceptive. It almost seems that he can make himself appear smaller than he is. When he sits, he seems to fold up at the shoulders, tuck his arms like bird wings and bring his knees up to his chin. He rises slowly from his seat, as if sensing ceiling height. Standing motionless, he seems to disappear in a corner, behind a column or a potted plant. Then, with a quick stride, he is somewhere else.
He is all legs, anchored to the floor with size 15 feet, his thighs rising above grown men's heads. And when he waves, his 48-extra-long sleeves unfold first, then out come his hands, all adding up to a 123-inch vertical reach. A man who can dunk without leaving the floor.
A handshake with Bol is an exchange between one person's hand, wrist and arm and the other person's finger tips.
Some of Bol's friends were disappointed that he gave up traditional African living to play basketball, but after stalking a lion for several nights, then spearing it as it slept and having to camouflage himself as a bush twig until the thing died, Bol is not likely to be intimidated by Moses Malone.
Bol has tried to make believers out of the skeptics, citing this and other challenges that he has faced as evidence that he has the heart to play in the NBA. But in the absence of proof beyond the 12 block-shot average he had in the United States Basketball League, he is still viewed by many as a long shot.
But Bol says don't count him out. He says he's got a girlfriend who helps him buy and make clothes, and that "a lot of people make me feel good." He's eating four meals a day in a game plan to get his weight up to 250 pounds. He's working hard, he says, patting his stomach.
Bol's playing skills are being questioned, his durability disputed. Instead of accepting him as a basketball player, Washington is taking bets on the thin man and, win or lose, is expecting to have fun with Bol.
"I bet you a hundred dollars that Moses breaks his ribs the first time they meet," one man challenged another as the crowd crushed in for a closer look at Bol on Friday.
"Look at that dude's knees!" the other man said. "Moses better watch his neck."
Bol stays cool. He has heard this kind of talk before.
"It doesn't bother me," Bol said, using his hands to wave off the controversy. "I know I can't stop Moses Malone -- but . . . I can play him."
Believe it or not.