This column really should be about what a fine move the Washington Bullets made in getting Dan Roundfield. It really should say that if the Bullets' starters can stay healthy next season -- even though Roundfield and Gus Williams will each be 32 years old -- they could be as good a starting five as there is in the NBA. It really should explain why the Bullets, by unloading Rick Mahorn and Greg Ballard and acquiring Roundfield and first-round pick Kenny Green, have dramatically furthered their transition from beef to ballet in order to stay competitive in what surely is the best division the league ever has seen.
But at 3:30 yesterday afternoon Bob Ferry stepped to the microphone planted on a makeshift podium at Capital Centre and said something that made just such a column impossible to write.
He said, "The Washington Bullets, second round, are picking Manute Bol."
Manute Bol, of whom Pat Williams, the general manager of the 76ers, once said, "He looks like a guy who went to a blood bank and forgot to say, 'When!' "
Manute Bol. The Sudanese Swatter.
"The upside is," Ferry said, "if he can pick up some weight he's got a chance to be the best shot-blocker who ever lived."
The downside is, if they don't put a screen over the drain, the first time he showers after practice he could be gone forever.
We're talking tall and thin.
So tall and so thin that if he needed a summer job he could be a foul pole at Memorial Stadium. Or a stake for the tomato plants that Earl Weaver and Pat Santarone grow. Or a dipstick. Or a radio antenna on a Greyhound Bus. Or the straw that stirs the drink. Or, if he put his arms out, a goalpost. Or, with an eraser on his head, the world's tallest pencil.
Put a dish on his head and you have your own cable-TV system.
Turn him sideways and he looks like a pool cue on steroids.
"Keep in mind," Gene Shue said for those who hadn't yet seen the whole Bol, "that his body is really a liability."
Someone asked Shue, "What do you plan to do with him?"
In the third round, the Bullets were looking to get the best chef available. In the fourth, a medical technician to administer intravenous feeding.
Ferry, who weighs in the area of 250 pounds, patted his ample stomach and said, "I'll put him on my diet. Works for me."
Bol, who was said to be either 21, 23, 24 or 28 at various times yesterday as the Bullets took their best guess on height, weight and age, is what they call "a project."
He may not play in a Washington uniform (go ahead, Sy Syms, I dare you) this year or next. He may never play even a minute in the NBA, but surely you can understand why a team would risk a second-round pick on him. "He's a very, very interesting player; there isn't anything he does that looks normal," Shue said, trying hard to keep a straight face. "He catches the ball off the rim and dunks it without jumping. He's a hard worker. He's agile." After ticking off some more of Bol's basketball attributes Shue paused briefly. "And he's eight feet taller than anyone you've ever seen."
Ferry doesn't think that drafting Bol was any kind of gamble at all. "If he picks up weight, he'll be a factor," Ferry said. "If he doesn't, he's just another second-round pick who didn't make it."
Years later most of them are remembered with a laugh and a shrug of the shoulders.
But Mark Eaton was a project, and now he's not only the best shot-blocker in the league, but this season he was voted the NBA's top defensive player. Granted, Eaton had a lot more weight to work with than Bol. "Bol's legs," Ferry said, "aren't any bigger than my arms." And Shue said, "When you see him, you'll say, 'I don't believe it.' He's just straight up and down." No big deal. If Bol doesn't make it, as tall as he is, he can get a job as a speedbump on the outer loop of the Beltway.
You probably won't believe this, but I think drafting Bol was a terrific move. Let's go best-case scenario here: Say the Bullets have a great season and get to the finals of the playoffs, where they'll undoubtedly have to play the Lakers. With Bol, the Bullets have come up with the last piece of the puzzle -- someone to match up against Chuck Nevitt. You wouldn't want to get to the seventh game of the championship series and have Nevitt be the guy to beat you.
The next thing the Bullets ought to do is petition the league to allow zone defenses. In a zone, big guys like Jeff Ruland and Tom McMillen could act as a human shield and protect Bol from harm, and Bol could stand behind them and jump up and down like a pogo stick trying to either block shots or simply discourage them. This would be "The Miniature Golf Defense." Just as when you try to putt between the spokes of the revolving wagon wheel, opposing players would have to go up to shoot when Bol was coming down.
Obviously, Bol will be in a lot of trouble against some of the bulkier big men. (Let's face it, at 7-6, 190, Bol is in trouble against a high wind.) It's one thing if Moses Malone decides to use Bol as a toothpick. But the Bullets have to worry about keeping Bol healthy in practice so he can even get into the games. The first time Bol runs into Ruland they may have to use a scraper to get all 7-6 of him off the hardwood. I think the Bullets would be well-advised to give Bol a red jersey, like football teams give their quarterbacks. And they ought to consider practicing on a thick rubber floor; this Bol could take funny bounces.