Last Thursday when the Bulls played the Heat, discount I thought the Heat would dominate yet again, click especially without Bulls star player (and former HAM of the Week) D. Rose. But fans were treated to a completely different game—and the Bulls beat the Heat by more than 20 points in one of their best games since Rose’s injury. And with that game, a new star player emerged: our HAM of the Week, Luol Deng, who led the team with 20 points in that game. The 28-year-old had 37 points in the triple overtime loss two days prior.
So what else is there to know about the 6’9”, 220 lbs small forward?
Deng hails from what is now South Sudan, but fled the country with his family as a child, moving to Egypt and then to Great Britain, becoming a British citizen in 2006.
He attended high school in South London, developing an interest in soccer. He played for a few years before switching his focus to basketball, playing on England’s 15-and-under team for the Brixton Basketball Club and England’s squad in the European Junior Men’s Tournament. He earned a spot in the London Youth Games Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2009.
At 14, Deng moved to the United States to play basketball at Blair Academy in New Jersey. After graduation, he attended Duke University. In just one season, Deng appeared in 37 games and scored an average of 15.1 points per game, leading the school to the 2004 Final Four.
After receiving the USBWA National Freshman of the Year award, Deng entered the 2004 NBA draft. The Phoenix Suns originally drafted Deng as the 7th pick in the first round, but was immediately traded to the Bulls by another agreement. Though he suffered a season-ending wrist injury late in his rookie season, Deng made the NBA All-Rookie First Team and helped the Bulls return to the playoffs for the first time in seven years. He finished his first season with an average of 11.7 points per game.
In the 2006-07 season, Deng was the only Bull to start all 82 regular season games, and increased his scoring to 18.8 points per game. He earned the NBA sportsmanship award, the 2006-07 Golden Icon Award for Best Sports Role Model and the UN Refugee Agency’s Humanitarian of the Year Award as part of the UNHCR’s ninmillion.org campaign to bring education and sports to displaced children.
He played in his (much-deserved) All-Star seasons the past two years, joining D. Rose in 2012 and former HAM of the Week Joakim Noah in 2013.
Although he’s been plagued by injury over his past nine seasons, Coach Thibs has called Deng the “glue” that holds the team together, which has certainly helped in this season so far. He’s played through it—showing just how devoted he is to the sport.
But being a basketball powerhouse isn’t the only thing that makes him HAM-worthy. Deng is involved in numerous charities, most notably his Luol Deng Foundation, which provides means for African children and adults with access to basic human needs. He serves as a spokesperson for Nothing But Nets, Ninemillion.org and the World Food Programme. He also attended the Basketball Without Borders Tour in 2006 and 2007, and made a highly publicized first return to his native Sudan following the 2009-10 season.
In addition, Deng is also the founder of the Luol Deng Foundation (UK), a not-for-profit organization that provides opportunities for participation in basketball for the Great Britain community while addressing issues of education, health, crime and social inclusion.
In a 2012 interview with GB Basketball, Deng talks about his commitment to bring basketball to the UK, especially as the team prepared for the London Olympics, in which he served as an ambassador and averaged 15.8 points.
The social media-savvy player posts on everything from basketball to his foundation. His main site, LuolDeng.com, includes all his accounts as a way for fans to connect and become a part of the community.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” – Nelson Mandela
— Luol Deng (@LuolDeng9) July 1, 2013
As the remaining player of the 2004-05 roster, Deng has weathered through trade rumors, which have increased more since the announcement of D. Rose’s injury. He’s playing in the final year of his contract, and the Bulls have been very fair without their star player. But for now, Deng is in his prime as a leader, and will hopefully get the team back on track.