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NBA superstar Luol Deng spreads the word



By Leon Mann
BBC Sport in Chicago

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British Bull Deng leads charge for GB

Great Britain's Luol Deng is the perfect subject for an interviewer. He has a truly remarkable story, is articulate and from the outset of our interview says no areas are off limits.

Deng had some journey to NBA stardom with the Chicago Bulls. He was born in Sudan, raised in Egypt and then South Norwood in London as a refugee, before coming to the United States at the age of 14.

Michael Jordan, the greatest player the game has ever seen, told me recently that Deng is the "deciding factor" in whether the Bulls win an NBA championship.

Last night the Bulls advanced one step closer to that championship as they secured a 4-2 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks to cement their place in the Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1998.

Deng's coach, Tom Thibodeau, describes his captain as "the glue of our team."

We know it's our first Olympics and other teams have been together longer than us but we're going to compete
Luol Deng

He is big news in the US. His fans include President Barrack Obama, who says the Londoner is his favourite player, and I'm told that Oprah Winfrey is desperate to get Deng on her show.

But the Bulls number nine grins as he tells me that when he is back in London very few people recognize him. "I'm just a tall guy walking down the street. I like it," he says.

The 25-year-old is well paid for his abilities. In 2008 he signed a six-year contract worth $71 million at the Bulls.

"If anyone tells you it doesn't change anything - they're lying. It changes a lot of things," he says.

"I don't think it changes who you are inside. But when you have a lot of money it makes a lot of things easier. That's why everyone wants to be successful. You love what you do but you want recognition. You also want to be able to support your family and be able to have an easier life. That's really what success does.

"It doesn't change who I am to my friends and family - it's doesn't change that - but it definitely changes the struggles that you went through that money can help with. There's definitely a comfort level where you are satisfied that you're taking care of your family."

Luol Deng on fame, fortune and Sudan

Chicago's small forward is most certainly taking care of those who are nearest and dearest. At his impressive home on the outskirts of the city, my camera crew and I meet his friends and family, before Luol.

His brother and friends are stretching out on the sofas - chilling out watching college basketball on the TV in the living room as Luol eats his dinner in the kitchen. We are welcomed with warm greetings from everyone.

They are proud of Luol but have their own lives studying or working in the States. It's American accents all around. When I ask Luol about his own Chicagoan twang he explains why he lost the British accent.

"I lost it 'cause I'm originally from Sudan so when I call home to speak to my parents or family I don't speak English. So a lot of times I'm not hearing it as much as I want to. But I probably lost it, like, the first year," he begins to laugh.

"I remember the first year I went over to New Jersey and my accent was totally different. They made fun of me and all that. At the time as a kid you really didn't want to be made fun of. So I didn't really try hard enough to try and keep my accent I just went with it and I lost it very fast."

LUOL DENG AUDIO SLIDESHOW
Ajou and Luol Deng

But while the accent may not be very British anymore his passion for the game back home clearly highlights his allegiance. If we even needed him to. As the focal point of Great Britain's basketball team he believes they can cause some "surprises" at London 2012.

Great Britain failed to qualify for the last World Championships, which involved 24 teams. The Olympics only features 16 teams but some are tipping them as having an outside chance for a medal.

Can they really make it to the podium?

"I don't know that. I really don't know that. But I do know that every game we go into we are going to try and win," Deng says with a look of conviction.

"I don't think we are going to the Olympics, just to be in the Olympics. I don't think any of us have that in mind. We're going to try and compete with every team. We know it's our first Olympics and other teams have been together longer than us but we're going to compete.

"We're going to be in games. It's not going to be easy for opponents. They're not going to look at Team GB and just circle that game as a win."

Up until this point the interview had been going well. Then I ask what Deng would choose if he had a choice of an NBA championship ring with the Bulls or a Gold medal with Team GB. I cower into my chair as the 6ft 8in mild-mannered Deng turns on me.

"This is one of those questions like asking if you have two brothers which is your favourite?

"You can't really answer that. For me right now my focus each year is to win an NBA championship. If we're playing for both things at a different time then that's a different answer.

Leon Mann takes on Luol Deng

"Right now the Championships is the ultimate goal, but when the Olympics starts that's my next goal."

Deng is still smiling so I breathe a sense of relief. It's never a good look to upset your interviewee when you've flown across the world to see them. But it isn't long before he exacts some revenge for putting him on the spot like that.

As a creative way of raising funds for his charity, the Luol Deng Foundation , he's organized an event where fans can come and take him on at his favourite computer games.

I accept a friendly challenge at the end of our interview but tell him I've never played before. He doesn't believe me. "You're trying to set me up!" he announces to his friends and the crew gathered in the room as he selects his beloved Arsenal.

I choose Manchester United, the team that has served as Arsenal's foil for success over the past decade.

A 9-0 battering later he's crying with laughter. I'm just crying.

"You know what?" he says smugly. "A lot of people wouldn't do this. But I'm gonna offer you a rematch. But I'm not sure you gonna accept."

My pride doesn't allow me to turn him down. But I ask for a year to improve and home advantage, on my games console at my place in London. He replies with this tweet:

@luoldeng9 : @leon_mann the rematch is whenever your ready. But don't forget London is my home 2.



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see also
NBA superstar Deng returns to his Sudan roots
24 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Basketball star Deng heads home
07 Sep 10 |  World
Superstar Deng spreads the basketball word
16 Aug 10 |  World Olympic Dreams
Luol Deng excited by London 2012
26 Jul 10 |  World Olympic Dreams


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