It is no coincidence that Luol Deng was selected to lead Team Africa ahead of the first ever NBA game on the continent.
Deng will be part of a select group of players who will make history when the NBA Africa Game tips-off in Johannesburg today and the 30-year-old, who has a strong connection to the continent through his roots in South Sudan, is looking forward to being part of it.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” the affable Miami Heat star, who makes one feel tiny when standing next to his six foot nine frame, said this week.
“I’m very excited. It’s a step forward for the game. It’s great and bringing a lot of attention I just don’t want people to forget the reason we are here. We’re here for these kids and the continent of Africa. The game brings hope,” Deng said.
His upbringing involved a move to Egypt to escape civil war before being granted political asylum in Great Britain and it’s something that Deng admits is part of the reason he feels such a strong connection to Africa and helping grow the game of basketball on the continent.
“Sometimes life take you places you never know where it ends up and I’m just glad that I’ll get to step on the court and represent our continent,” the two-time NBA All Star said.
“I know what I’ve been through in my life and I was very lucky. I was a refugee and a lot of people never thought I would be in the place I am in. Basketball has taken me far and I know it can do a similar thing to a lot of these kids.”
“Sometimes you go through so much that it’s easy to lose hope. Sticking with it you never know what could happen,” Deng, who is now in his fifth year as part of the Basketball Without Borders camp, said.
He’s also adamant that Africa has an abundance of talent, some of it yet to be discovered.
“I believe in the talent within Africa. Africa has so much potential. It will always keep producing talent. I think the game has grown and this is a big step forward.
“The NBA getting involved in Africa is important for the growth of the game. Kids in Africa are able to watch and follow the game. They know that their dreams can come true,” he said while also adding that it was important that his fellow Team Africa teammates buy into the process.
Their enthusiasm and assistance this week has proved that they are firmly behind the cause.
“It’s good for the kids to see us come back to the continent and give back. To see guys who came from similar backgrounds who are playing in the NBA also gives them hope.
“It motivates me when I see kids excited and see people in Africa who follow basketball. It definitely makes me want to work harder and go back and be the best I can be. I get something back from it.”
‘its definitely important for me. giving back is something you do because you want to. The fact that I’m in the position that I’m in, I’m humbled and thankful to be giving back through basketball. It’s a life that I always dreamed of and I’m happy to have the opportunity to be here.”