Bulls must respect Olympics are big deal for ailing Luol Deng
BY NEIL HAYES email@example.com May 24, 2012 8:30PM
Luol DengÂ of Great Britain and Carlos AndradeÂ (L) of Portugal vie for the ball during the group A qualification match between Great Britain and Portugal during the EuroBasket2011 in Panevezys on 4 September, 2011.AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:48AM
General manager Gar Forman met with forward Luol Deng to discuss his long-term health more than to persuade him to forgo his Olympic moment in favor of surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist.
The latter discussion would have gone nowhere, so Forman was wise to save his breath.
As we all know, Deng is a team player. In this case, however, his team is Team Great Britain. He has been adamant about playing for the host country in the Summer Olympics in London, and that wasn’t going to change.
‘‘I’m playing,’’ Deng told me before Game 4 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. ‘‘I don’t care what anybody thinks.’’
Maybe this is the only downside to emphasizing character while building a roster. Deng gave his word and isn’t backing out, even if it would be better for the Bulls if he reneged. Many of the same character traits that made him attractive to the Bulls have made him the face of his sport in the country where he was raised.
This is a big deal, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the Bulls are wise to support Deng’s desire to do what he thinks is right.
This is obviously a deeply personal decision and one Deng should be allowed to make. The Bulls are his employer and should let their concerns be known, but the collective-bargaining agreement prevents executives from discouraging players from participating in the Olympics, even if participation is clearly not in a team’s best interest.
It’s Deng’s life. It’s his career. It’s not as though his reasons for representing his country aren’t admirable. He and his eight brothers and sisters fled civil war in their native Sudan and were granted asylum in Britain. It was in London that he first was scouted as a 6-2, 12-year-old. He feels a responsibility to Britain for taking his family in.
He also has become Britain’s basketball ambassador. These Olympics are considered a ripe opportunity for the sport to gain a toehold there, and he’s leading the charge.
‘‘He just feels so strongly that he owes a big debt of thanks to the United Kingdom for all that has happened in his life, and his way of repaying it would be to play on their Olympic team,’’ said Herb Rudoy, Deng’s agent. ‘‘His sense of it is he wouldn’t be here today, playing for the Bulls, if it wasn’t for Great Britain.’’
Deng has been a warrior for the Bulls, the ultimate team player. He has finished second and first in the league in minutes per game the last two seasons.
He could have had surgery after initially injuring his wrist, but he didn’t want to handicap the Bulls by missing the majority of the regular season and perhaps even the playoffs. He called playing through the pain this season the most difficult thing he has done. For the most part, he played at a high level, although he obviously favored the wrist at times.
Whether he will have surgery will depend on how his wrist feels during his Olympic run. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant suffered a similar injury and never had surgery.
‘‘The issue is whether surgery is necessary for him to play at a high level,’’ Rudoy said. ‘‘Only he can decide that.’’
The only other names on the British national-team roster most fans will recognize are former Bulls guard Ben Gordon and Charlotte Bobcats center Byron Mullens. Britain received a free pass into the competition because it is the host country, but it doesn’t figure to stick around long. It’s also possible Deng might decide to reduce the wear and tear on his wrist by limiting his minutes during training camp and exhibitions.
Regardless, it’s his call. And rightly so.