Writing about the Top 100 National Basketball Association players of 2016, Sports Illustrated magazine’s Rob Mahoney says of Luol Deng, “Coaches sing his praises. Teammates past and present adore him. Such positive reflection is far from coincidence.”
As I reflect on Deng’s first visit to our Voice of America headquarters, it’s hard not to sing a few more verses in praise of the Miami Heat forward.
I last talked with the 30-year-old Deng a few years ago when he played for the Chicago Bulls. I met him in the lobby of Chicago’s team hotel before a regular season game against the Washington Wizards.
What impressed me from that meeting was Deng’s humility and his love for Africa. And those impressions carried over during his visit to the VOA.
Deng wore a South Sudan Unite T-shirt to visibly promote unity in his homeland, Africa’s newest country and one that’s been striving to achieve lasting peace. In an interview on the VOA’s Africa 54 TV program, Deng talked about his humanitarian work in South Sudan; playing in the NBA’s first game in Africa; and he looked forward to the upcoming NBA season.
As we heard in my interview, Luol Deng says he thinks he “still has a lot of years ahead of him” in the NBA and there’s still “a lot he wants to accomplish” before he leaves the league.
Among his accomplishments and career highlights: Deng is a two-time NBA All-Star (2012-2013) and he won the NBA’s Sportsmanship Award in 2007 and the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2014.
The NBA’s Citizenship Award is given to those who show outstanding service and dedication to the community. Dikembe Mutombo, who Luol Deng has described as a role model for his own humanitarian efforts, is the only player to win the award twice. The 49-year-old Mutombo retired from the NBA in 2009 and he’ll be officially enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame on September 11th.