It was at the 2012 NBA All-Star game at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida where Luol Deng went outside the NBA All-Star dress code to wear a black t-shirt adorned with a stylized outline of the continent of Africa. It was a monumental moment for Deng, a simple yet impactful way to honor where he came from and inspire the many kids that look up to him.
Deng said on his All-Star appearance in 2012 (to ESPN reporter Nick Friedell) that he "didn't want the kids to just see it and just go by. I just wanted them to remember where I came from and get something out of it." Deng was providing plenty of support and a healthy dose of inspiration to African youth across the world. It's something he continued to do even following the end of his on-court career in 2019.
Luol Deng, standing along side fellow Eastern Conference All-Stars Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, and Andre Iguodala, during pregame introductions of the 2012 NBA All-Star Game.
In 2019 Deng had the aforementioned statement where he wanted African youth to "get something out of" his nod to the continent at the 2012 All-Star game, it's safe to say the youth continue to "get something out of" Deng's efforts, but now even more so than his arduous efforts during his playing career.
The year is now 2022, and Deng beams proudly as he discusses many topics, including the Basketball Africa League and the many ways the youth benefit from the many programs and organizations he works with and shepherds.
"We have a Deng Top-50 camp for South Sudanese refugee kids here in the US. And we have 98% of those kids on scholarships in colleges...we have over 130 kids that are [on] scholarships in the US. We have over 2000-to-3000 kids a year and now we have Her League [for South Sudanese girls] and we are trying to do the same thing [there]. Every year we do a Doctors Without Borders drive where we have a number of South Sudanese doctors from across Europe that come together and go to different villages and perform surgeries. They perform over 500 surgeries a year. Ya know, I could just keep going on...but in terms of basketball for myself, I know that basketball is what gave me the opportunity [to help]."
Deng's involvement in the development of African basketball and South Sudanese hoops in general is incredible in that it extends to both on and off the court programs. But in terms of on the court, Deng saw that over time, with proper resources, Africa would be an obvious hotbed for basketball talent.
Africa Day: Luol Deng continues to grow the game in Africa
"With BAL (Basketball Africa League), I started the Basketball Africa League journey when I was still pretty much my second or third year here in Chicago and my friend Amadou [Gallo Fall] and I would go every summer to Africa and we would just start basketball camps. I did most of the camps that I did myself in Africa in different countries every year. Five or four different countries every summer. Most of it was from my sponsoring money from the Nike shoes...I felt that it was a way for me to give back and from doing that we started getting ideas and we teamed up with Basketball Without Borders and eventually Basketball Africa League [was] started."
Now, Basketball Africa League is one of the more compelling and fresh international basketball leagues in the world. And Deng's friend Amadou Gallo Fall is currently the President of the Basketball Africa League, following stints in important roles with the Dallas Mavericks and the NBA league offices.
As 2022 NBA Africa Day is celebrated, the BAL will have their semi-finals taking place, with Clube Atlético Petroleos de Luanda taking on Forces Armées et Police Basketball and in the other semifinal; Zamalek matching up with Union Sportive Monastirienne, with both games taking place at Kigali Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.
Deng continued to show a smile familiar to Bulls Nation but also displayed a stark seriousness in his voice as he discussed the obvious potential that the BAL can have in furthering the development of basketball across the continent of Africa.
"Basketball Without Borders...is where [2022 NBA MVP runner-up] Joel Embiid, [Pascal] Siakam and so many other players came from but now you have Basketball Africa League which is bigger than just one tournament in the summer that's going to provide way, way more players so...I see South Sudan being a part of that and I see a lot of other African countries getting the opportunity and...the youth getting an opportunity to be in the NBA or be seen.
"I really think that ya know the future is bright. We are [going] to have so many players that have the opportunity not only to play in the NBA or play in Europe or Australia, China or wherever but really have an opportunity to change their life. Ya know sports really gives you that platform to be able to ya know, no matter how good you can be you always get an opportunity to, one: get a job, two: provide for your family...but also get an education. You could become anything, so we always... when we put our basketball programs [together] we're telling our youth that it's not just about being a professional basketball player or a professional athlete, it's the opportunities that are going to present themselves. So I see that as being something that's greater than just being in the NBA but I really believe that we will have players in the [league]."