JUBA , SOUTH SUDAN - When he was a child, Luol Deng and his family fled civil war in what would become South Sudan. Deng later became a star in the U.S. National Basketball Association and now uses what he learned on the court to support South Sudanese youth and bring them hope.
Deng is a two-time NBA All-Star who joined the Chicago Bulls in 2004. He played his last game, for the Minnesota Timberwolves, in 2018.
This month, the former NBA player visited the land of his birth, present-day South Sudan. At the Manute Bol Court that his foundation built, he encouraged young players and talked to reporters about the game.
“It’s a tool to take kids off the street but also to occupy them and teach them how to work together, how to communicate, so it’s really more than a sport,” Deng said.
As a youngster, Deng and his family fled Sudan's civil war and went to Egypt. There, Deng met former NBA center and South Sudanese humanitarian activist Manute Bol, who taught him to play basketball.
In 2015, the Luol Deng Foundation opened the Manute Bol Court in Juba in memory of Bol, who died in 2010.
“I also wanted to dedicate a court after Manute Bol for everything that he’s done for the country. I think that his legacy should always be remembered,” Deng said.
The foundation works with the United Nations refugee agency and NBA Africa to build outdoor basketball courts that bring communities together.
The courts, and Deng’s example, inspire young South Sudanese players like Sandi Abrahm.
“There are some players that are getting scholarships to Europe and America, all because of how they are playing,” Abrahm said.
But Deng told reporters that his foundation is about more than just basketball.
“We do a lot of other things. For example, we have 10 doctors that we send every year, we’ve been doing it for five years now. They perform surgeries all over South Sudan,” Deng said.
Juma Stephen Lugga is the minister of youth and sport for Jubek State. He says Deng's charity work is invaluable.
“What Luol is doing is very great and appreciated because it’s bringing hope for our youth and teenagers,” Lugga said.
He says plans for South Sudan include building a basketball academy and including more girls in the program.