Manute Bol is tired, which isn't surprising given his position as a rookie in the National Basketball Association. Between learning plays, lifting weights three times a week and adjusting to living out of a suitcase, you couldn't expect it to be any other way.
But other reasons behind the fatigue are as unique as Bol's height and weight -- 7 feet 7 inches, 205 pounds. In the two months that he's been with the Bullets, Bol has become a phenomenon, not only in Washington (where the team's advance sale of top-priced single-game tickets has doubled and season ticket sales are up about 35 percent), but throughout the NBA.
In fact, it could be argued that Bol soon will become the most talked-about athlete in the league since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving, surpassing interest in such players as Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson and Patrick Ewing, who, for the most part, are only athletes, capable of being dealt with in the sporting press.
Bol, a native of Sudan and a second-round selection from the University of Bridgeport, is moving beyond that, as evidenced by the fact that both People magazine and ABC's "World News Tonight" are sending crews later in the week to interview him, with Reuters waiting around the corner.
Need more evidence? Recently, Bol purchased a Ford Bronco but was told that its preparation -- namely moving the front seat back to allow him to be comfortable -- would take a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, said the dealer, we've got this stretch limousine from the State Department that we could let you use.
Initially, Bol thought the idea of arriving at Bullets practices at Fort Meade in what could almost pass for a battleship would be fun. But when the time came, he declined the offer. One friend said that was the fatigue talking. Suddenly, Manute Bol isn't having as much fun.
"I can't be a comedian anymore," he says wistfully, and those who have spent time around Bol realize the gravity of those words. It is impossible to be anywhere near him without smiling.
First, there is the inescapable novelty of being around someone so tall. Added to that is Bol's personality: warm and engaging. Even before he stepped onto the basketball court as a member of the team, he was a part of the Bullets. Said General Manager Bob Ferry: "He's a part of all of us. It's not even like he's 'Manute Bol, the basketball player.' It's more 'Manute Bol, our friend.' "
Given his slender frame and inexperience (he's only played basketball for a few years), the Bullets have always considered Bol a long-term project, which usually translates to "he doesn't know how to play yet." But from the start, Bol has surprised.
Ferry said, "Initially, he'll be a draw, but for all the wrong reasons: he's 7-7, he's black and he's an African." Yet, in the Bullets' first five exhibition games, Bol blocked 29 shots, a record-setting pace and a reflection of his defensive instincts.
"You have to entirely rethink your conceptions of what it's like to take a shot over someone when you play against him," said Bill Walton of the Boston Celtics, who has altered the direction of a few field goal attempts himself during an 11-year career.
More importantly, and just as impressively, "We've worked him hard and he's played against some tough competition and he's come through it well," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue.
That Bol's slender body hasn't been broken; that he has, to some extent, succeeded, has only served to add to his mystique. There already was the story of how he broke teammate Dan Roundfield's arm in practice. And then there was the matter of his killing a lion with a spear in Sudan. Are you going to tell us this guy can put the ball through the hoop, too?
Whenever he walks onto a court, an anticipatory buzz is generated; when he stands up and peels off his warmup pants before entering the game, the noise level increases. The first time he touches the ball on offense, even if he's 30 feet from the basket, the crowd is imploring him to, "Shoot, shoot."
But this fascination with Bol has started to take a toll. Last Thursday night in New York, before the Bullets played the San Antonio Spurs, the center sat in a small cubicle in Madison Square Garden and talked about the scene before the team's previous game, against the Dallas Mavericks in Ruston, La.
"There were 20 (media) guys and they all wanted to talk, but it had to be one at a time," he said. "I was in the locker room alone and wanted to warm up. I needed the work. But it was always 'one more question, one more question.' "
Bol said the same thing happened after the game against the Spurs. "I can talk with anybody at any time but I wonder why they want to talk so much with me. It's always 'one more minute' and the bus is leaving me behind. I'm a rookie, I can't be doing that. I may have to leave them in the locker room talking to themselves."
Mark Pray, the Bullets' public relations director, most likely will accompany the team during its first trip around the league to insure that such interviews don't become the rule. But the team itself has to be conscious of not overstepping the lines.
Friday night, Bol was scheduled to attend a wrestling match at Capital Centre featuring Hulk Hogan, another People magazine-oriented, faddish individual. As it turns out, Bol is a big fan of pro wrestling and wanted to meet Hogan, but the appearance was a media event.
"If it turns out to be a good publicity stunt, why not do it? There's nothing wrong with publicity," said Ferry. "What's a picture? I had mine taken once with Stan Musial and no one said I was being exploited.
"You don't have any idea of the number of calls we get every day, from everyone in the country and from people around the world. If we had wanted to exploit Manute, we certainly could have by now. But I don't think there's been a problem with the way things have gone."
Sure enough, by the end of this day's practice, Bol is smiling again.
"I'm just trying to work hard all the time -- in practice, in games, in lifting weights," he said. "Sometimes, players take it easy. I don't want to do that. I want to play hard and learn my job, how to play this game.
"I don't mind (the attention) now. I think the others I'm with get more tired of it than I do. People can think what they want, I feel good about me."