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Sporting Heroes: Luol Deng, the Brit standing tall in the United States


While American team sports’ global appeal continues to rise, the vast majority of the athletes competing at the pinnacle are Americans; but now Britain has its very own NBA superstar.

Luol Deng was born in Sudan, where his father was a politician. After the family fled to Egypt to escape the second Sudanese civil war, the Dengs were granted asylum in Britain and moved to Brixton, south London. Deng had met the former NBA player Manute Bol in Egypt and carried his new-found interest with him.

He joined Brixton Basketball Club and put together an enormously impressive junior career. At 13 he represented England in the European Junior Men’s Championships, earning the MVP award. It was apparent that he possessed an enormous talent and at 14 he moved to the United States to fulfil it.

In the same high-school age group as Lebron James, the 6ft 9in Deng was considered the No 2 prospect in America behind him. When James went straight to the NBA after high school, Deng went to college. He selected Duke University, a basketball powerhouse, and played there for just one season, posting historic scoring and rebounding statistics for a freshman.

Deng was selected seventh in the 2004 NBA draft by the Phoenix Suns, who immediately traded him to the Chicago Bulls. Deng helped the Bulls to an Eastern Conference final, where they were beaten by James; but for injuries to team-mate Derrick Rose, Deng might have been an NBA champion.

In January this year, Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. At 29, his best might still be to come.

In February, basketball had its British Olympic funding revoked. Deng (below) is Team GB’s one hope to get it reinstated.