Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng has spent his 12-year NBA career playing hard-nosed, disciplined basketball while establishing himself as an excellent teammate. It’s these qualities that Los Angeles hopes will make Deng a perfect mentor for their young players, and a big part of why they pursued him this offseason. While Deng had plenty of suitors, the Lakers landed him on a four-year, $74 million contract.
Deng had a winding path to the NBA, as his family had to flee civil war in Sudan when he was a child. He picked up basketball after meeting Manute Bol in Egypt, and his family eventually made their way to England. Deng showed promise, and at 14 he came to the United States to play, eventually spending a year learning under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke before being drafted into the NBA.
Despite his travels, Deng never lost his desire to help others back in Sudan. He built a basketball training ground for children there and is seen as an inspiration to young players, who hope to use basketball to gain scholarships so they can further their education. In a report by
Elvis Boh of Africa News, several Sudanese players discussed how Deng has impacted their lives:
“All South Sudanese know Luol Deng and we know what he did to us. He is a good player for us. Actually, when he came just like all the people I came to play with them and their hobby is playing basketball like him.” – Lual Wagang, basketball player
While the goal for many players will be to pursue a career as a professional basketball player, the impact of Deng’s contributions goes much farther than that. The hope is that, as children can gain an education through basketball, they can attempt to build a better country.
“We have to really encourage them. And we have to really give them motivation and give them the way forward that the new Sudan generation can believe in better, and we have to have the South Sudan we want.” -Anir Majok, South Sudan basketball Federation.
As the Lakers continue to rebuild, Deng will be a major asset for coach Luke Walton as he attempts to develop a winning culture in Los Angeles.