The most famous British sportsman in America

(and not a pouting pop star wife in sight)

From Peter Ferguson, Daily Mail
Luol Deng is coming … maybe not with the same three-ring-circus razzmatazz that heralded David Beckham’s one-man mission to save soccer in the United States, but with the same thought in mind.

Well, almost. While Becks tries to sell the Beautiful Game to a sceptical public, Deng will try to repay the country that became his home by shooting a British basketball team into the 2012 Olympics.

The cynics might say Deng has the tougher job; the last time Britain had a basketball team in the Olympics was when London staged the Games in 1948 and they were handed a place then as host nation. On the plus side, Deng does tough rather well.

The child refugee from Sudan’s civil war, whose family fled to Egypt when he was four then to South Norwood when he was eight, has become, at the age of 22, one of the hottest young sporting properties in America.

For many of us, the best basketball shot we ever saw was the last-ditch, longrange three-pointer that saved Snake Pliskin’s life in John Carpenter’s Escape from LA.

This script is straight out of Tinseltown, too. Deng, who left home at 14 for New Jersey to pursue his basketball dream, is the Wayne Rooney of the NBA, a shining star of the Chicago Bulls and now passportcarrying talisman for our Olympic hopes.

He may be anonymous in Britain, apart from the odd street in south London, but in basketball-mad America he is a hero to millions who wouldn’t know Becks if they tripped over him in a tattoo parlour.

The taxi driver heading for Nick Bollettieri’s famed tennis academy in Florida, where the British basketball squad are training, nods enthusiastically at mention of Deng, although in the interests of honesty, he is from Chicago.

Deng, an avid Arsenal fan and pal of Philippe Senderos — whose brother plays basketball for Switzerland — admits: “I’ve no idea how Beckham will do in the States, I’ll just wait and see like everyone else. I wish him all the best. What he’s trying to do is good for his game.

“Kids are really excited to have him here. I think the game will rise here, and I just hope for the same thing with our sport in England.

“Chicago loves its athletes. You’re pretty popular if you play for the Bulls.

“People recognise you when you’re out. Fans get excited, and I’m fine with that, but at times I might think: ‘I want to get away’. I never liked the attention growing up, but now I’m aware of what it means to them.

“At times you hope they don’t recognise you or I walk fast or wear a hat. But when a kid comes up, you have to talk to him.

“There are times you just want to be low key, especially if there’s a lot of people. Sometimes I have security, not to be mean, but to let people know. There’s times you are tempted to just stay home.”

There are compensations for fame, of course. Like the new £36million, six-year contract the Bulls are dangling in front of the 6ft 9in small forward who blew away Miami Heat almost singlehandedly in the recent play-offs.

That’s a far cry from the £70 a day he will pick up, along with his British teammates, for a summer spent trying to establish them high enough in Europe’s pecking order to be in with an Olympic shout.

But Deng is big on honour and giving back.

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