Deng’s Olympic Decision Goes Deeper Than Basketball
Over the past year, Luol Deng has been adamant about playing for the Great Britain national team in this summer’s Olympics. It has been a dead-set confidence that has not wavered despite the likelihood of eventually having surgery to repair the torn ligament in his left wrist.
Deng suffered the injury on Jan. 21, forcing him to miss a total of 12 games over the course of the season. Still, he played through the pain, sported a heavily-padded glove on his left wrist and was the Bulls’ model of consistency on both ends of the court throughout the season.
After Chicago’s season-ending Game 6 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on May 10, Deng repeatedly emphasized the impact England has had on his life and on his family. The nation sealed him from the struggles that took place in his native Sudan, and it was in London that he participated in his first organized basketball program.
“Since I was a kid growing up [the Olympics are] something I wanted an opportunity to be a part of,” Deng told reporters. “The fact that it’s in my hometown that I grew up in, in a country that even gave me an opportunity to be here, I’m looking forward to it.”
Yes, it is easy to point the finger at Deng to skip the Olympics because of the $39.9 million over three years that remain on the $71 million deal he signed in 2008. On top of that, the 27-year-old will likely sit out the first month or two of next season due to the inevitable surgery, a scenario that would leave the Bulls without their two best players in Derrick Rose (torn ACL) and Deng. Yet, some observers are oblivious to the meaning Deng holds behind representing Great Britain this summer in London, failing to be cognizant of the mark he plans to leave as the flag-bearer in a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
In the grand scheme of things, it is much more meaningful than one or two months of regular season action.
For Deng, donning a Great Britain jersey at the Olympics is the lifelong goal he has strived to attain. He has spent time giving back to the community throughout his entire career, receiving various service awards from the NBA, and now he aspires to give back once more – this time to a country that has put him in his current position, a nation that is set to make its first-ever basketball appearance in the Olympics. Deng has the league’s collective bargaining agreement in his favor, as well: Nowhere does it give teams the power to bar players from playing in the Olympics.
Nevertheless, Deng’s stance has opened him up to some backlash, while Bulls general manager Gar Forman did not sound as supportive as Deng probably would have liked during his comments last week. Forman said the team would speak to Deng about the injury in the next week and he pinned the primary focus on health, not the Olympics.
“Our biggest concern with Luol is his health, and I know that’s our fans’ biggest concern and I know that’s his biggest concern,” Forman told the assembled media. “That’s the next step, to get with Luol, see where he’s at and then come up with a plan going forward.”
Deng’s agent, Herb Rudoy, confirmed Sunday night that both parties will meet sometime this coming week.
At this point, the Bulls’ best-case scenario for Deng is that the torn ligament will cure on its own. Kobe Bryant suffered a similar injury during the preseason, and his version of the ailment healed in seven weeks as he played. Clearly, every player’s body is different, and Deng has not ruled out bypassing surgery, depending on how his wrist responds to some rest and the Olympics.
Ultimately, the message that the Bulls’ management will deliver to Deng won’t matter. Deng is 100 percent committed, and one source with knowledge of the small forward’s thinking maintained on Sunday that he will “for sure [play]” for Great Britain – and rightfully so.
Deng spent four months gutting out the gruesome wrist injury for the betterment of the team, for the sake of buying into the belief that the Bulls truly had a special team ready to take the next step. Now, he wants his dream to come to fruition, yet another giveback to the adopted nation that provided him a cover, an outlet, many years ago.