I have looked at the future of basketball. And looked. And looked. And looked. The future of basketball sits as tall as most of us stand, blocks shots without leaving the floor and has a firm mind behind all that engaging innocence. On and off the court, Manute can Bol you over.
He is the only question mark shaped like an exclamation point, and the first reaction is a goofy one. Because he was the closest available NBA expert, I turned to Jack Nicholson at halftime of the Bullets-Knicks exhibition Friday night and said: "Whaddaya think of the 7-7 kid?"
"Tall, isn't he?"
The fellow with the closest look of all, who, in fact, had a third of his nine shots batted aside by Bol, had an equally keen eye for the obvious.
"Big, isn't he?" said Bill Cartwright, a shrimp at 7-1.
"Now I know the way people feel when they play against us," said Patrick Ewing, the pivotal player in a coach's dream but not the entire center of attention at George Mason's classy new gym.
Once some of us realized a passport wasn't necessary after all to reach George Mason, two thoughts were uppermost: How soon will Ewing dominate in the NBA? How soon will Bol play in the NBA?
The first answer came 4 minutes and 13 seconds after tipoff, when Ewing filled the right lane on a break and teammate Darrell Walker let fly one of those strut-your-stuff lobs from about 30 feet.
Jeff Ruland was on his inside shoulder, between him and the basket, when Ewing left Virginia air space about the free-throw line.
Bill Russell would have caught the ball and passed it to Bill Sharman for an open jumper; Wilt Chamberlain would have grabbed it, faked Ruland and slipped a finger-roll into the basket.
In one thrilling motion several feet off the court, with Ruland providing 240 pounds of turbulence off his left wing, Ewing controlled the lob and slam-jammed it.
There are no doubts about Ewing. Whatever he is being paid -- $16 million or $16 zillion -- is not out of line. His is the latest entrance of compelling collegiate comets that began with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in 1979 and has included Ralph Sampson, Isiah Thomas, James Worthy and Michael Jordan.
Ewing belongs, although the Knicks may not belong among the NBA elite until Bernard King mends and a playmaker surfaces.
About minute Manute. To the notion of whether anyone without a second of big-time experience who also weighs less than a shadow can survive in the NBA, the answer is a startling:
Bol grows on you. On a court cluttered with giants, even sophisticated fans gawk. George Mikan must have felt similar stares in the '40s.
At shopping centers, when he draws an awestruck crowd, Bol often will stroke his chin and say: "Hey, I'm a good-looking guy, but I don't deserve all this attention."
The first concern is how he gets from one end of the court to the other without one of those teeny-tiny legs snapping in half. His sneakers seem odd, as though attached to a bird. Big Bird.
"Just a fun person to watch," said Bullets General Manager Bob Ferry. "Frankie (Johnson) being injured, we sit together in the stands a lot during practice. We joke about not bothering to watch unless Manute's out there."
Ferry is 6-7 and not easily moved by enormous size. Yet even his jaw goes slack when Bol takes a pass, turns and, hardly on tippy-toe, drops the ball in the hoop.
Bol arrived as a joke, the merry second-round choice when the bearded lady demanded a guaranteed contract and the sword swallower opted for Italy.
Look who's not laughing just now.
Patrick Ewing; Bill Cartwright, former third pick in the draft; the remainder of the NBA once Friday's highlight tapes get distributed.
"He's easily among the three toughest to score over," said Cartwright, adding that the other two are Sampson and 7-4 Mark Eaton. "You're just not gonna go over him. You've gotta go through him. It'll take a trip around the league for everyone to find that out.
"Fortunately, he's so light. If he was heavy, we'd all be in trouble."
Coach Gene Shue decided to test Bol early, and he replaced Ruland with 4:53 left in the first quarter. When Ewing also was rested shortly, the 204-pound Bol was matched against the 204-pound Cartwright.
Quickly, Bol found himself with the ball 15 feet from the basket on the right wing and no Bullet open.
Against Ewing, he had forced a pass and thrown the ball to the Knicks' Walker. This time, Bol put up an awkward shot that actually went in.
On the other end, there began a fascinating sequence that NBA shorthand on play-by-play sheets recorded as "Bol blocked Cartwright shot."
Three times that happened in the first half. For variety, he flicked away three other Knicks' shots in the second half. Once, Bol simply towered over Cartwright, flat-footed, and patiently waited for the ball to arrive at his hands.
Too bad there's a claim on Sultan of Swat.
"First time I've ever seen a 7-footer's shot stuffed like that," said injured Bullet Dan Roundfield. "He blocks my shot all the time. Now I don't feel so bad."
At 6-8, Roundfield said, "My head comes up to his chest."
During practice last week, Roundfield and Bol were involved in some above-the-basket twisting. Bol accidently pinched Roundfield's left arm against the backboard and fractured it.
"I feel bad about it," Bol said.
He felt encouraged, if not elated, about his 16 minutes of action, though.
"I can block better than that," he said.
Well now, before the game, what would the odds have been that Manute Bol would block five more shots and score just two fewer field goals than Patrick Ewing?
Bol didn't blow away after Ewing's first breath, after all. Besides, all Ferry and Shue demand from Bol is Ewing's work habits -- and he's delivered. In time, perhaps within a year, they hope he becomes Eaton.
In 30 games in two years at UCLA, Eaton averaged 1.8 points and 2.3 rebounds. In three NBA seasons, he has grabbed 1,984 rebounds and blocked 1,082 shots.
After a pizza with the works, Bol now is on the proper side of 200 pounds. He has some muscle definition in his arms -- and the hint of a chest. He is growing in other ways.
The other day he applied for a Social Security card with his chauffeur-confidant Chuck Douglas of the Bullets' public relations staff.
En route to the appointment, Bol thought about the long and complex Social Security form and decided it was time for "the act." So he pleaded to the administrator that he hardly spoke or wrote any English.
Sympathetic, the woman completed everything and Bol simply signed his name. In nearly every way, he's learning in a hurry.