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Ball Don't Lie

Luol Deng discusses the spinal tap procedure that ‘really put [his] life in danger’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Luol Deng, right before everything went pear-shaped (Getty Images)

There are basketball injuries we understand, like ankle sprains, or knee tendinitis, or even career-changing burdens like a torn ACL, an Achilles tendon tear, or microfracture surgery. No matter how serious the setback, we all know of an athlete that has been there before, and as fans we can anticipate the expected recovery time and performance levels upon return.

Something like a spinal tap, to those of us that had to be told in junior high that a “spinal tap” was an actual procedure and not just a VHS tape that we were obsessed with renting over and over, is a little less familiar. And Chicago Bulls All-Star Luol Deng was stuck in the hell hole of trying to both explain why his early-May spinal tap destroyed his 2012-13 season, while watching his undermanned Bulls claw and dig their way toward the second round, while receiving little to no public support from Bulls coaching staff and the team’s front office along the way.

From a conversation with NBA.com, via the Arlington Heights Daily Herald’s Mike McGraw:

“The end of the season was disappointing,” Deng said. “I worked hard all season, played in the All-Star (Game), and wanted to take the team as far as possible in the playoffs. But then, when I got sick, I think that we could have handled the situation better.

“Obviously there are some things that you can’t handle. You can’t really handle getting sick, being taken to the ER or going to the hospital. I got the spinal tap and that’s where it went all wrong. My body didn’t react well to the spinal tap. I had some serious side effects that not only didn’t allow me to play basketball, but really put my life in danger.”

It was the height of absurdity that not only was Deng considered a potential game-time decision for Chicago’s Game 6 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on THE DAY he underwent the spinal tap, but also that coach Tom Thibodeau refused to stand up for his player after the disappointing defeat – referring to Deng’s “flu-like symptoms” following the game while meeting with reporters.

This was hours after reporters had witnessed Deng barely able to walk as he skulked through the back corridors of Chicago’s United Center. Thibodeau had to be more than aware that his All-Star small forward had undergone a spinal tap so as to determine the cause of what the doctors at the time thought was meningitis, and still decided to drop that “flu-like symptoms” quote because, I don’t know, he was unhappy about a loss?

(And this was also before Deng revealed that he lost 15 pounds in the aftermath of the spinal fluid leaking from his spinal tap, while confirming that he had been playing with a fractured thumb.)

Thibodeau’s remarks spoke volumes about the disconnect with just how good the Chicago Bulls are at preparing for actual basketball games, and how terrible the coaching staff and front office can be when it comes to treating their players like actual people with actual problems that go beyond suiting up. Thibodeau is an absolute genius when it comes to directing traffic on the court, but he’s often out of his league when it comes to publicly handling things like these, or limiting minutes for players that badly need the rest. And after Thibodeau sold Deng out as being stricken with “flu-like symptoms,” you’ll recall, Deng had to take to Twitter in order to defend his name.

Not via a Chicago press release. Not via any of the multiple press appearances Thibodeau could have made. But on Twitter. Compare Deng’s “put my life in danger” quote with Thibodeau’s “flu-like symptoms” line, and you’ll have a better time understanding the disconnect here.

Luckily for Thibodeau, the Bulls have stocked the roster with players that seem impervious to personal slights, characters that don’t mind this sort of noise as they attempt to take things one game at a time. It truly is a strange, remarkable team full of single-minded basketball freaks.

Luckily for Bulls fans, by the time October rolls around, this will truly be a strange, remarkable team full of single-minded healthy basketball freaks.

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