The Indiana Pacers were concerned whether Manute Bol had the heart to play in the National Basketball Association, so they posed the question recently to his agent, Boston lawyer Frank Catapano.
Catapano told them, "Look, the kid killed a lion with a spear," the Pacers' head scout, Tom Newell, said. "Who else on your team did that?"
The Pacers evidently were impressed, because Newell was back here last week to see Bol, the frail, 7-foot-6 1/4 former cowherd from Sudan, in his final game before Tuesday's NBA draft.
Nor was Newell alone. Dallas sent General Manager Rick Sund, Coach Dick Motta and assistant Bob Weiss to the tiny gym at Rogers Vocational High School for one last look.
With three high picks in Tuesday's NBA draft (Nos. 8, 16 and 17), Sund said Dallas might well take a flyer on the stork-legged Bol, who is playing this summer with the Rhode Island Gulls of the fledgling U.S. Basketball League. If Dallas doesn't take Bol early, Sund said, someone else surely will.
Even if they wound up deciding against Bol, the Indiana and Dallas scouting parties had much to marvel at in the Gulls, who in addition to the tallest player in serious basketball probably also have the shortest as well as the most controversial.
Spud Webb, the gifted 5-foot-7 guard from North Carolina State, was bringing the ball up for Rhode Island against the hapless Westchester Golden Apples. Banging the boards when Bol wasn't swatting shots away with his 95-inch "wing span," as Catapano calls it, was 6-10 forward John (Hot Rod) Williams, indicted two months ago for point-shaving at Tulane and facing trial this summer.
Just to round things out, at the other forward the Gulls put Martin Clark, the English-born player who quit during his senior season at Boston College after several confrontations with his coach, Gary Williams.
If it all sounds like midgets, mountains and malcontents, that suits Gulls Coach Kevin Stacom fine.
Stacom said that when a team is trying to draw 1,000 fans a night to see pro basketball in a new league a week after the Celtics and Lakers settled the NBA title in high drama, it doesn't hurt to have a gimmick or two.
Nor does it damage prestige to have NBA scouts drifting in nightly, as they have for the last month from the Mavericks, Pacers, Bullets (General Manager Bob Ferry and Coach Gene Shue), Cleveland Cavaliers, Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns.
They come to see Williams, who probably will be drafted even though it's unclear whether he'll be allowed by the league to play. But mostly they come to see Bol, who Catapano and Sund say will be drafted in the top 30 despite his awkwardness and startling lack of bulk.
"Sure, he's got to gain weight," Catapano said. "He's 198 now. But he's eating five times a day. The kid loves to eat."
It's clear after a night of watching Bol play that he does not also love to run and jump. He spends a lot of time under the baskets, and when he does move it's at a shambling gait, about the exact opposite of Patrick Ewing leading a fast break.
But how much running or jumping do you need to do when you can dunk the ball flatfooted?
Bol had a respectable game, as did Williams and Clark in what turned out to be a rout of Westchester. Each scored 20 points, and Webb was spectacular, captivating the crowd with high-flying saves, sparkling assists, a dunk and even a tip-in while among the giants in the lane.
Bol had his moments. He scored 14 points in the first quarter, shooting from as far out as 16 feet, and he blocked 11 shots before fouling out with 7 1/2 minutes to go.
But could this fragile bag of bones survive in the NBA?
Former Celtics center Dave Cowens, who was in the stands watching, didn't like Bol's prospects.
"He can survive, sure. But if you're asking if he can contribute, no. Guys are going to be looking at him like this," said Cowens, thrusting his mug into the interviewer's face and glaring with menacing blue eyes. "These are big guys, 7-2, with legs like this," he said, signifying a tree trunk with his hands. "He won't last. Not the way he is now."
It seems a cruel fate into which to thrust the cheerful Bol, who said he wants only to earn some money to help support his sister back in the Sudan.
Maybe he'll get a reprieve.
Bol said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson asked if he'd mind sitting on the bench for a season or two while learning the game he's been playing only five years.
"I said no, I don't mind," said Bol, folding his endless, skinny legs as he perched on a locker room stool. "I could be working out, eating, lifting weights. That's good."
Bol, who played one season of Division II college ball at the University of Bridgeport last season before opting to go to the pros, said he wouldn't argue with Sund's assessment that his contribution could be in years to come, not next year.
"He's definitely a project," Sund said.