Bol Bol played in his first game in Denver since being traded from the Nuggets on Sunday night with his Orlando Magic in town to complete a five-game West Coast road trip.
Although it’s been just a little over a year since he last played in Denver, the 23-year-old still has many fans in this area.
That includes the Atem family, South Sudanese refugees who moved to the United States 10 months ago and now reside in Denver. The five siblings along with a daughter – some originally from Sudan and some from Egypt – range in age with the oldest being 23.
Their journey to get to this point has been anything but easy. They lost their parents and a sister and have had to make enormous cultural adjustments along the way.
Immediately after going through his warmup routine, Bol met with each of them courtside. Their interaction, as you might expect, brought them incredible joy. They’ve been following Bol’s professional career from the beginning and have been cheering him on from afar this season.
All are huge basketball fans, including 17-year-old Abuk, who is currently playing for her high school basketball team.
“It’s amazing,” she said of meeting one of her two favorite players, Bol, with Nikola Jokic being the other. “I (don’t) believe it.”
With the family was Rebecca Alleman, a volunteer co-sponsor with the African Community Center and a private tutor in Colorado. Seeing the family’s eyes light up when Bol came over to greet them will be a moment she will never forget.
“Seeing someone from their home country be successful here in America is truly the American dream,” she said. “You think you make it to America, and everything is going to be easier, it’s going to be okay, and then you move here and it’s hard. Learning English is hard. We have expectations that are different like cultural, timeliness, and communication expectations that are just different. To be culturally adjusting to so much, and to see one of their own be so successful here is inspiring.”
It means a lot to Bol, who knows a quite a bit about overcoming obstacles, to be a positive role model for others, especially those from his native country. He moved with his family to the U.S. as designated political refugees when he was 2 years old.
“It’s pretty cool, especially because of what my dad (former NBA player Manute Bol) did,” he said. “I got to see everything he used to do growing up and now I’m older and I can give back and do those types of things like he did. It means a lot to me.”