Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with NBA star Luol Deng...
NBA star Luol Deng has been interviewed a couple of times in the matchday programme in the last six years. In that time we have watched him develop from a talented prospect in his first season at Chicago Bulls to the very heartbeat of that team and undoubtedly one of the stars of the league. Not surprisingly, Luol is also the leading light of a talented GB team that will chase a medal at this summer's Olympics.
Hi Luol, can you remind everyone why you are an Arsenal fan?
I grew up playing and watching a lot of football in London, I mean you don’t have a choice as it is everywhere. Arsenal were an exciting team to watch so I took an early interest in them.
Who were your early Arsenal heroes and which players of recent times have you particularly liked?
Ian Wright was a big reason why I started to support Arsenal so it was great when I got to meet him. Players like Dennis Bergkamp, Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry are guys that really stick out. In recent times I have liked Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. We have had some great players come and go so it’s hard to name all of them but these guys are ones that stick out.
You first met up with the Arsenal players at the training ground in the summer of 2005 - the team has changed hugely since then.
Yeah I know – it’s pretty crazy. I am the only player left on the Chicago Bulls team since I joined in 2004 so it’s a part of sports where players move around.
You struck up a friendship with big basketball fan Thierry Henry back then, have you managed to hook up with him now he’s in the States?
I haven’t managed to see much of him in the States as we are both so busy but did manage to reconnect with him in San Antonio at a Spurs game as he is close friends with NBA player Tony Parker.
What did you think about his Red Bulls coming to London and winning the Emirates Cup?
It was great as we all know Thierry is a huge fan favourite so I know the supporters appreciated him being back. I was surprised they won but football is growing in the USA and is starting to get a bigger fanbase. It helps that some USA guys are in the Premier League also.
On to London 2012 – firstly, how important was it for basketball to get host nation status? Was it ever in doubt?
It is hugely important and to be honest I really didn’t know if it was in doubt. I just knew that the team had put so much work in since we joined that our hard work would be rewarded.
You played a test event at the new stadium built for the competition, what did you think of it?
It was great to be in there where you could see what the atmosphere could be like. We are all so excited for 2012 and ready to put all of our hard work into action. We finished well in the recent Eurobasket tournament but will still be long shots for a medal.
What do you need to do to be competitive against the best teams?
I don’t think we need that much as we compete with all the best teams. It comes down to just getting it right, preparing the right way with the right guys. It has been an up and down process so far but we are positive that we can put in some great performances at 2012 and show a lot of people how good we are.
We hear your GB team-mates Eric Boateng and Ogo Adegboye are big Gooners too – but Pops Mensah-Bonsu is Spurs isn’t he?
We have some jokes and banter as that is a huge sports rivalry. Yeah, Pops is always going on about his Spurs! After the defeat to them [last season], there was a lot of stuff channeled through Twitter which was a tough one to take.
When your whole Bulls team came to a game against Blackburn a couple of years ago, Joakim Noah admitted that Arsenal were also his team… and he could win a medal for Arsenal with his France side – especially with Thierry’s mate Tony Parker on the team too...
Joakim said that? Yeah I am sure he did actually! I am not sure how much skills he has though so wouldn’t take him up on this!
Tell us a bit about your Foundation and the work it does.
My foundation concentrates in three areas (UK, USA and Africa) – which are the areas that have meant a huge amount to my life. Education and sports are our key focus with basketball being a tool to use this, especially in the UK. Check out the website for more info: www.luoldeng.org.uk