Even folks who know nothing of sports, couldn't care less about basketball, and couldn't find ESPN in the cable guide with a map and a flashlight would appreciate knowing about the Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng. Luol's originally from Sudan, repatriated to Great Britain (where he is currently the leader of the national team), schooled at Duke University, and now a rock-solid small forward for the Chicago Bulls.
He hasn't always been so rock-solid. Yet, following a couple of massively unfortunate seasons lost to injury and an agonizingly extended rehabilitation process, last season Luol produced 17.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as the captain of a Bulls team that shocked the sports world by advancing to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
So, the timing on the BullsConnect article I just ran across may seem a bit strange. Underneath a photo of Luol Deng smiling and shaking hands with some African teens also smiling and wearing t-shirts bearing the new flag of South Sudan with the phrase "build a nation" is an article posing the question, "is Luol Deng's passion for charity work hurting his development as a basketball player?"
Charity work is important, but there is a time and place for it.
It has to come second to basketball, if Luol Deng wants to reach his full potential as an NBA player and the Chicago Bulls want to reach their full potential as NBA champions. Right now, that doesn't appear to be the case. Priorities need to change.
Now, it would seem to me that there is a time and place for charity work - anytime and anyplace. But that's just the kind of guy I am. At the very least though, you'd hope the offseason would be an acceptable window for service to humanity. I really hope Lu got a good chuckle out of the piece. I mean, seriously - here we have an NBA player enlightened enough to realize there's more to life than ball and booty, who is an ambassador not only for the game of basketball but for a nation (a brand spanking new one at that) and we're getting huffy because he missed an invitational game?
I'm not going to spend this space throwing darts at the author. He's a Bulls fan who wants to win, and he did correctly peg the draft needs for the team (however, should you feel so inclined he's @BCBeatWriters & I won't try to stop you).
I'd rather spend this space showing some appreciation for Luol Deng. You see, while Luol was enduring his rehab process I was undergoing one of my own. I got ill while teaching English overseas a few years ago and had to go through a surgical procedure during which I wasn't able to teach and was almost forced out of my class and replaced. I know it seems a silly comparison, an ESL teacher and a high-profile NBA player. Nevertheless we were actually in very similar situations: both working in foreign countries, facing injury, rehab and separation from the work we loved. So, watching Luol keep his head up the whole time even while the sportswriters and armchair general managers called him "soft" and "overpaid" actually helped me get through a pretty difficult time in my own life. Thanks Lu!
What, then, of this charity-work supposedly so all-consuming it may result in a veteran forward completely forgetting how to dribble a basketball? The Luol Deng Foundation builds basketball camps, health clinics & book programs for children in the UK, Sudan & Chicago. The organization's philosophy:
Health and education are basic human rights and are key to developing strong communities, prosperous living and independent lives throughout the world.
I for one don't believe human rights work supplants Luol Deng's passion for basketball. In fact, I'd wager that his work fuels his passion for basketball. Basketball is how he got where he is today and how he's able to give back so much. When James Naismith invented the game of basketball in a Massachusetts YMCA he did it so young men could find a way out of difficult circumstances. The kind of work Luol does is the very reason the game was invented.
Again, I don't wanna hate on @BCBeatWriters because it's so easy to get caught up in the labyrinth of advertisements, playoff hype, & celebrity endorsements and actually start to believe that sports is the most important or perhaps the only thing in life. I sometimes wonder how many people would turn their attention to working for justice and the rights of the underprivileged if we didn't have 500 channels of ball and boobs to keep us all occupied in between work-shifts.
Luol Deng is undistractedly working to help humanity as best he can. To learn more about their mission and projects you can visit Luol Deng Foundation website and donate to this work here. We don't all have the means to donate, but let's show Luol some love on Twitter @LuolDeng9.
And Lu, if you're reading this that 3-pointer you buried against Miami last year was niiiiiiice. Can't wait for this season!