Published on January 28, 2014 | by Ollie Woodbridge


Boosting basketball in Britain

Luol Deng in action for the Chicago Bulls [Flickr: Keith Allison]

Supporters of basketball in the UK are hoping that the recent NBA game at the O2 Arena in London between Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets will help boost the profile of the sport.

Much like its NFL counterpart this annual match in London has moved on from being an exhibition friendly, to being a regular season battle which actually matters.

The NBA is seeking to attract European fans, but while basketball is big in France and Spain, in Britain it is still very much in a perpetual state of infancy, dwarfed by a long list of more popular sports on these shores.

This is perhaps one of many reasons why the greatest catalyst for the possibility of basketball even being mentioned in the same conversation as these sports is not the NBA’s fleeting annual event but is in the form of one man: Luol Deng.

It is by no small stretch that Luol Deng could easily be considered Great Britain’s greatest foreign ambassador.


As a child exiled from war–torn South Sudan, he was smuggled out of the country through Egypt and went on to become an NBA superstar for the world famous Chicago Bulls team. In between he attended St Mary’s Roman Catholic school in Croydon and became a product of the now famous Brixton Basketball club.

But this week saw Deng’s career take a dramatic twist as he was moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers because of new NBA rules. The move sent shockwaves through the league as one of the most revered players in the game was displaced from his home of 10 years.

The reaction from his teammates demonstrated the hole he left. Power forward Taj Gibson described his immediate feelings as “extremely pissed” whilst other teammates, including France star Joaquim Noah, suffered league fines as they refused to talk to the press for up to ten days after the switch.

Deng has always been dedicated to Team GB, which he has captained since the beginning of his career, despite the consistently downward trajectory of the sport over here. He continues to believe the team can one day replicate the success of their European counterparts who boast rosters full of NBA stars. He has already written a furious letter to David Cameron, vowing he will not sit back and allow the legacy of his sport to be “demolished”, following an announcement that the sport will receive no funding for Rio 2016.

So whilst the circus of the NBA played out in the 02’s big top for a one–off showcase last week, Deng will continue to lead longer-term aspirations for the future of the sport in the UK. By remaining the selfless British ambassador–cum–NBA superstar who is so often overlooked in the conversation of Britain’s sporting greats he enjoys somewhat cult status home and abroad. As his new team in Cleveland will find out what those who know Deng’s body of work already do: he won’t let you down and he won’t ever give up.



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