How Bulls' Carlik Jones helped Luol Deng's patriotic vision originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Former Chicago Bulls All-Star Luol Deng is the president of the South Sudan Basketball Federation, a country that made history on Monday thanks, in part, to a current Bull.
"We made history," Jones, who is of South Sudanese descent, told reporters in Manila, Philippines afterward. "We came to do what we wanted to do. We're not done. We got a lot to play.
"But it's so huge for the players and the fans. The feeling is unbelievable. We all worked so hard. It's huge for the country. We're just blessed to be here."
Deng endured civil war growing up in Sudan before his family received political asylum and put down roots in London, England. He proudly represented Great Britain as the host country while playing at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
But Deng always kept involved with his homeland. And when South Sudan, which earned its independence in 2011, needed a president to run its federation shortly after Deng retired from his stellar NBA career, the stars aligned.
Deng appeared on the Bulls Talk Podcast in 2021 to discuss the impact of his role, which included him serving as coach initially before he hired former NBA player Royal Ivey.
"Things didn't always go our way, but we kept pushing," Deng said on the podcast. "We couldn't get players in the beginning to commit to see the bigger picture. But we kept pushing.
"One of the things that as a kid, watching the Olympics, the soccer World Cup, AfroBasket, EuroBasket, I always felt that there's something within you---you could call it pride---that changes you as a person or your love for your country when you see your flag, the ceremony, the induction. For some countries, like the U.S., people don't think about that because it's guaranteed.
"But think about it when you're from a country where you had civil war and anything in sports that was represented you being that side of the country, you didn't represent that flag. You felt some type of way because of the civil unrest."
South Sudan, which is 1-1, next faces Serbia on Wednesday in a crucial game to advance out of group stage play. Currently ranked 62nd in the world, South Sudan also is vying to earn Africa's automatic qualifying bid for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
"Luol Deng is the heart and soul of this," Ivey, who is an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, told reporters in Manila after Monday's game. "Without Luol, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. He had a great vision. I entrusted in his vision and it all came together. I'm in awe that I'm sitting here at the World Cup. I'm forever indebted to Luol for giving me an opportunity to coach this team."