'Ladies," said Dad, as he bounced through the front door, "you probably don't realize that if we finish dinner in the next 45 minutes, something great can happen."

"Something great?" asked Emily Levey, age 4.

"Something great?" asked Jane Levey, age considerably more.

"Yes, ladies. Literally something great," said Dad. "We can go see Manute Bol!"

"Who's Noot?" asked Emily.

"MUH-noot, Em," Dad corrected. "He's a basketball player. He plays for the Bullets."

"I play basketball, too. I play at school," said Emily Levey.

"Not like this guy," Dad said. "He's 7 feet 6 3/4 inches tall. Imagine! Seven-feet-6 3/4! He's huge!"

"Is he a giant? Like Gulliver?" Emily wanted to know.

"Well, not exactly a giant. But he's about this tall." And Dad stood on tiptoes, his hand about a foot over the door leading to the basement, to demonstrate.

That sent a certain small person in vigorous pursuit of shoes and jacket. "Noot! Noot! We're going to see a giant named Noot!" she bellowed.

Manute Bol has my vote as the most interesting athlete in Washington. Just a few years ago, he was living in Sudan and had never seen a basketball, much less shot, caught, passed or dunked one. But he emigrated to the United States, and to the National Basketball Association. He was a freak at first. Now, although he is still extremely awkward, he is beginning to learn how to play the game.

There is some question in basketball circles about how good he is, and how good he ever will be. But there is no question that he is the one and only drawing card the lackluster Bullets possess.

Around the Beltway went three Leveys, worshipers at the Shrine of Bol. They took their seats just as the pregame warmups were finishing up. The Bullets were practicing their shooting at the basket nearest us. Emily Levey had not even taken off her coat when she pointed to one player who was a full head taller than any of the others.

"Look! Daddy! Is that him? That big skinny guy there?"

"Yes, hon, that's him. See how big he is? He is one of the biggest basketball players in the world."

"But Daddy," said Emily gravely, "he's too skinny to play basketball. He's going to hurt himself."

"Well, a lot of people think the same thing, Em. But he can handle himself pretty well, I think. Anyway, let's watch and see."

The game began with the usual center jump. Manute Bol tapped the ball to a teammate, who rushed down the court and scored a basket. A rhythmic chant went up behind us: Muh-NOOT, Muh-NOOT, Muh-NOOT.

"Why are they saying Manute's name?" Emily asked.

"He did something good, hon. He helped a basket happen. That's the object of the game."

"But why didn't he make the basket himself?" Shrewd basketball analyst, this kid. Takes after her father.

"He wanted to share," Dad explained. "You know how you sometimes share your sandwich with the kids at school? Manute shares the ball the same way."

A few minutes later, a substitute came into the game. Manute Bol jogged over to the Bullets' bench and sat down.

"Why is Manute leaving?" asked Emily.

"He's taking a rest, sweetie. Sometimes you get tired from playing basketball."

"I want Manute," said Emily, with the same pout she uses when she's lobbying for a cookie.

A couple of minutes later, she got her wish. Manute re-entered the game, and within seconds, he scored a basket (Emily beamed). He got a rebound (which Dad explained, in laborious detail). He blocked an opponent's shot ("Swatted it like a fly, Em," said Dad, temporarily losing control of his figures of speech).

"Isn't he doing great?" said Dad to daughter, over the roar of the crowd.

"But it's not fair," said daughter to Dad. "He's taller than the rest of the guys." The thought flashed through Dad's mind that, with such a sense of justice, Emily will surely take her place on the Supreme Court some day. Hey, a Dad can hope, can't he?

Dad offered, but Emily declined the chance to go down to courtside before the second half to shake Manute's hand. She said she'd be too scared. And as the second half went on, Emily proved much more interested in Tiny, a miniature dachshund that performs during timeouts, than in a certain basketball player 40 times larger.

But the evening, and the star of it, obviously remained in Emily's memory. A few days later, Dad and Emily were driving up Rockville Pike. They passed a tall, skinny workman who was standing in a cherrypicker and straining on tiptoes to reach a streetlight that needed changing.

"Look, Dad!" shouted Emily. "It's Manute!"