Inside the Luol Deng Foundation

The NBA is in its early stages of their first lockout in over 11 years. Many questions have started to surface on what the players will be doing whilst talks are in place, and a resolution is agreed upon.

And even though Chicago Bulls’ star, Luol Deng is now cleared to compete in Lithuania this summer for Great Britain at Eurobasket, which was almost in doubt due to insurance costs that British Basketball would have to fork out for. The 6’9 small forward attempts to spread the word further about his charity work – including his own non-profit organisation: the Luol Deng Foundation.

The NBA is renowned for its charity work with the hugely successful ‘NBA Cares’, where players visit schools and hospitals to see kids and help them learn the important things for a growing infant. Like reading, writing and an active, healthy lifestyle.  For Deng, he gives back to the community through the Foundation. For when Luol isn’t with the team made famous by Michael Jordan, the Great Britain international is travelling around Great Britain, or parts of Africa, to see what his charity can do to help.

“I always knew I wanted to give back so having a Foundation allows me to use it to do that but also keep the goals close to what I want to achieve,” Deng said, whilst at the LDF UK headquarters in London.  “The Foundation is growing and helping more people, it’s great that when I say I want to do something, most times I can.”

Luol, of course cannot deal with the constant day-to-day goings-on within the Foundation, as the NBA’s 82-game schedule is a full-time job in itself. So he enlisted the help of his old-time friend, Steve Vear to handle the LDF tasks from the London branch – and high school friend, Adam Andre to oversee the work from Chicago.

“The US Foundation’s main aim is to raise funds to help in Africa through sports and education. A lot of the work on the ground is achieved through a partnership we have with the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency),” explains Steve Vear, who is Chief Executive Officer of the LDF in the UK.

During the NBA lockout, Deng recently visited the world’s newest republic, South Sudan, who gained independence from Sudan on the 9thJuly 2011, following many years of war. South Sudan is considered one the poorest countries in the world. Luol, born in the city of Wau in South Sudan visited the new republic to celebrate Independence Day and he also acted as a coach for one of the junior teams in an outdoor game played in the new country.

“I was watching some of those kids on the court, and some of the stuff they were doing, I was shaking my head and thinking how talented they are,” Deng said about the South Sudanese junior basketball players. “They get the opportunity to get better, and I’m excited and I hope they get that opportunity”.

Despite being in Chicago, Deng is updated regularly on events in Great Britain, courtesy of Steve Vear.

“We (Vear) speak quite a bit but the time difference doesn’t help. Steve (Vear) has it all under control. He (Vear) knows me well, knows what I want to do in the UK. He (Vear) always sends me emails keeping me up to date which is important,” Deng stated.

Steve Vear, himself a former professional basketball player is responsible for everything the LDF does here in Great Britain. From the day-to-day admin, to the events – Steve has his hands full.

“The UK Foundation, which I head up, concentrates solely on basketball initiatives,” Vear explains. “We achieve our aims through powerful relationships with organisations such as schools, clubs, sports governing bodies, local authorities and regeneration initiatives, concentrating on three key areas:  Increased participation in grass root development, providing assistance and advice for elite pathway and increased opportunities and participation for females.”

The Foundation has been at the forefront of basketball events in the UK- most notably, their own annual Luol Deng Camp, and a new project exclusively for young female hopefuls called ‘Deng Girls’, an area of basketball in Britain that virtually gets no attention. Vear looks to expose the high level of female basketball talent in the country, in the hope that there is a future for basketball players on the female side.

“Females are hugely under represented here in the UK where research has shown that basketball is one of the top sports that females stop to participate in when they reach the age of 15,” Steve explains. ”Deng Girls aims to prevent this by providing more access and opportunities for females. We have run tournaments, workouts and testing so far that we plan to continue and expand upon.”

Despite the lack of participation of female basketball players in Great Britain, the women’s game is showing signs of improvement. No doubt buoyed by the confirmation in mid-March that Great Britain would be granted an automatic spot in next year’s Olympic Games. The women’s side have gone on to reach the second round of Eurobasket Women earlier in the year, and the under-20 national team finished a respectable eighth at the under-20 European Championships for Women.

The men have also been granted a spot in next summer’s Olympics. Both the men’s and women’s spots were under threat due to the future legacy of British Basketball and if there would be one following the London Games;  plus, the level of competitiveness that would be on show from the Great Britain basketball teams in London.

Before that though, Luol and Great Britain travel to Lithuania, a country fanatical about basketball to compete in this summer’s Eurobasket. An event, insurance permitting that Deng is looking forward to – after missing the last Eurobasket due to injury. Deng is aware of the growing popularity that the team is getting leading up to Lithuania.

“There is a good buzz around the UK when Team GB compete; both men’s and women’s. It’s great, we need support. We want to show that the country has come a long way and plays with the best countries. These tournaments can only help basketball all over the world.”