This is why NBA star Luol Deng returned to his country to head the national basketball team

BY Solomon Mensah September 6, 2023 8:57 AM EDT
Loul Deng shared on X "South Sudan has a new basketball federation that’s been voted on by the people and I’m very proud, excited and thankful to be elected as the new President." Photo Credit: X

Born Luol Michael Deng in the northwestern city of Wau, South Sudan, in 1985, he lived through turbulent times in his youth. His country faced a civil war.

Five years after his birth, Deng and his family fled the raging war, which eventually claimed the lives of close to two million people and displaced many more.

The Deng family first resettled in Egypt, then moved to London and later to the United States.

“As [Luol] Deng lived in Egypt, the United Kingdom, and the United States, he continued to be troubled by this coverage and believed his homeland deserved better recognition – particularly after South Sudan gained independence in 2011,” reports Aljazeera.

He gained British citizenship in 2006 and played for the country, representing Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics. He, as well, featured two times in Fiba Eurobaskets (the European Basketball Championships, held every four years).

Deng would later move to the United States in 2004 at the age of 19. The Bulls describes Luol Deng as “a two-time All-Star (2012, 2013) who started his NBA career in Chicago at age 19. Luol Deng spent 10 years with the Bulls, helping lead the team to eight playoff appearances.”

After a successful basketball stint in the United States, Luol Deng retired from the NBA in October 2019 and returned to his country, South Sudan. He was unanimously confirmed as the South Sudan Basketball Federation president the same year and has been heading the country’s basket ball team since.

In an exclusive interview with Aljazeera, published September 5, Luol Deng said that after his successful basketball career abroad, he needed to return home to make an impact.

“The way my story was, I felt that it was important that I give back. I felt that it was part of what I had to do. I have always believed that even though I am away, I will return,” he said.

Deng is very optimistic that his coming back to give to South Sudan will yield positive results. He believes that basketball can unite his countrymen and change the narrative of the country from being associated with war to being a leader in sports.

“I just believe that it’s going to play a big role. Being the youngest nation, I think that sports have a way of bringing everyone together. We always wanted to be on the stage where everyone sees the positive, the talents, and what we can achieve as a nation,” he told Aljazeera.

At the 2023 International Basket Basketball World Cup, South Sudan’s team, the Bright Stars, thrilled patrons with a spectacular show in the Philippines capital, Manila. Deng has since been praised for inspiring the Bright Stars’ impressive performance at the World Cup.

The former NBA star, among other things, runs a foundation, dubbed The Luol Deng Foundation. The foundation leverages basketball to “give hope to those in Africa, USA, and the UK. Our work in the three different countries follows the life journey of founder Luol Deng, with each region having helped him in a different but significant way to his path as an NBA superstar.”