NBA superstar Luol Deng hopes he can inspire a new generation of youngsters to take up basketball
By Ronald McIntosh
Imagine a 6ft 9ins, 16½ stone centre forward towering above Lilliputian defenders to score the winning goal for England at the World Cup final.
No, Peter Crouch has not suddenly metamorphosed into a muscular man-mountain. Rather, it is a case of what could have been had Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls pursued a career in football and not basketball.
Deng is a passionate Arsenal fan, and dreamed of representing the Gunners during his childhood days in London.
However, the 25-year-old has found immense fame and enough fortune to make
The Times Top Ten Sport Rich List
for those aged under 30, shooting hoops rather than scoring goals.
And yet, when compared to the other luminaries (such as Lewis Hamilton and Wayne Rooney) who comprise this list of the young and loaded, Deng remains relatively anonymous in the UK
LUOL DENG - THE FACTS
Region: London, Great Britain
Career highlights: 2004-05 NBA All-rookie first team and 2007 NBA Sportsmanship award
This is not the case across the Atlantic however, where Deng's extraordinary ability on the hardwood marks him out as one of the best basketball players on the planet.
He is one of the lynchpins of the legendary Chicago Bulls club and any hopes they have of returning to the glory days of the Michael Jordan era will fall heavily, but rest easily, on Deng's broad, muscular shoulders.
Embracing challenges is nothing new for Deng; his entire life could be concisely described as a remarkable tale of triumph over adversity.
The eighth of nine children, Deng was born in Sudan, where his father was a prominent Member of Parliament.
The outbreak of civil war forced the family to flee, first to Alexandria, Egypt, and then to London where they were granted political asylum.
Deng spoke no English when he arrived in the Big Smoke at the age of eight, yet his football prowess soon made him a popular figure in the school playground.
But it was basketball which captured Deng's heart and after learning the game with the Brixton Topcats club in south London, he earned a scholarship to Blair Academy High School in New Jersey at the age of 14.
BBC World Class is a project to unite schools around the world through World Olympic Dreams
By his senior year, he was ranked as the second best High School basketball player in the USA. Some kid named LeBron James was number one.
After a year at Duke University, Deng was the seventh player selected in the 2004 NBA draft. His consistent, high level of play since signing for the Bulls saw him rewarded with a seven-year, $71m contract in the summer of 2008.
The contract talks were so protracted that Deng received criticism in some quarters for failing to resolve the issue more expeditiously. It is about the only criticism that Deng has suffered during his professional career.
He has set up a number of charitable organisations and has received a wide range of humanitarian and good citizen awards during his NBA tenure. He takes his status as a role model very seriously.
Deng's itinerant upbringing means he is fluent in English, Arabic, and Dinka. This globetrotting citizen of the world was finally granted a British passport in 2006. He chose to play for Great Britain's Basketball team and hopes to lead them to the London Olympics in 2012.
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It's great to see a sports star do so much for charity. Deng's work in Sudan and the UK is almost unprecedented amongst many other stars who afford similar status. It would be such a shame not to see Deng and Team GB at the Olympics so we must raise the profile of the sport. Campaigns such as Back British Basketball are doing a great job but we need to help them more with exposure and support.
Noel Kinrade, High Wycombe
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