Luol Deng: From a War Refugee to NBA Success Story

Luol Deng enjoyed a long career in the NBA, but he didn’t have an easy journey there. The Sudan native was born in a country that was experiencing a civil war to end the oppression and genocide that its residents experienced.

But he managed to escape the war-ravaged nation at a young age, and started a better life with his family. He picked up basketball as a kid and got good enough to play big-time college basketball and then make it to the NBA. Here’s the incredible story of Deng’s journey to becoming an NBA superstar.

Fleeing Sudan and his childhood

Luol Deng’s father was an acting government minister in the Sudanese parliament and was able to move the boy, his mother, and his eight siblings to Alexandria, Egypt, in 1988. Deng was just 3 years old at the time, so he says he doesn’t remember anything about Sudan.

When his family was in Egypt, Deng recalls everyone being “crammed into an apartment with only three rooms,” and he missed his father “and was worried about him.”  In Egypt, Deng was introduced to NBA player Manute Bol, who become the youngster’s first — and most important — basketball mentor.

Bol taught Deng the fundamentals of the game, laying the foundation for him to become a great player. Deng’s father was imprisoned and eventually released in 1993, when he reunited with the family and they fled to  England for sanctuary.

While living there, Deng further discovered his love of sports, particularly soccer. But he caught the attention of an American basketball scout, who offered the teenager a scholarship to Blair Academy in New Jersey, so Deng moved to his fourth country at just 14 years of age.

Luol Deng’s college basketball career and the NBA draft

By his senior year at Blair, Deng was the second-best high school basketball player in the country — behind only LeBron James — and was a 2002-03 McDonald’s All-American.

He was courted by hundreds of colleges, eventually choosing to play at Duke on an athletic scholarship. He only played one season for the Blue Devils, but he made the most of his time in Durham, N.C.

Deng played in 37 games, including 32 starts, and averaged 15.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski. He was selected by the Suns with the seventh overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, and they traded him to the Bulls that night for Jackson Vroman and a first-round pick in 2005.

Luol Deng’s NBA career

Deng played his first nine-plus seasons with the Bulls until they traded him to the Cavaliers in January 2014 in a deal that involved a number of draft picks and netted the Bulls Andrew Bynum.

Deng was just a rental for the Cavs, as he was a free agent that offseason and left Cleveland to sign with the Heat. After two years with the Heat, he would go on to play for the Lakers and Timberwolves before signing a one-day contract with the Bulls to retire as a member of that team on Oct. 17, 2019.

Over the course of his 15-year career, Deng averaged 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He set his career-high in points by averaging 18.8 per game in 2006-07, the first season that he started in all 82 games.

Deng was a two-time All-Star and was named to the 2004-05 All-Rookie Team and the 2011-12 All-Defensive Team. He wasn’t afraid to spend a lot of time on the court; he led the league in minutes per game in back-to-back seasons, 2011-12 and 2012-13, with 39.4 and 38.7, respectively.