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Luol Deng fights back tears as South Sudan earns 1st Olympic berth in any sport during 2023 FIBA World Cup

Luol Deng
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Former NBA All-Star Luol Deng was emotional after South Sudan earned the nation’s first Olympic berth in any sport during the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

The South Sudan team posted a 3-2 record in Manila to outlast other African teams and qualify for the Olympics. This happened just three years after Deng – who is South Sudanese – took over the program.

“It’s an unbelievable story. It’s an underdog story that, not just for the South Sudanese, not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world,” Deng said as he fought off tears. “It’s a feel-good story that majority of people can relate to. It’s such a unique achievement because it’s beyond basketball.”

Deng chose another former NBA player – guard Royal Ivey – to coach the team, and the two have brought a ton of success to South Sudan in such a short amount of time.

“It’s been a humbling journey. I had heartaches, I have a lot of ebbs and flows, and it’s a great feeling right now,” said Ivey, a 10-year NBA veteran. “A year ago we were practicing outside with eagles flying around while we were practicing and the courts were flooded. Like to go from there to come and play in front of these fans in the Philippines, and I’m on cloud nine right now.”

It’s certainly a great story, and it’s awesome to see NBA players like Ivey and Deng going back to make something special happen for South Sudan. Deng, who played for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves, is one of the best players to come from South Sudan.

A two-time All-Star, Deng had a lengthy NBA career where he was a strong defender, making an All-Defensive Team in the 2011-12 season. For his career, Deng averaged 14.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 33.2 percent from beyond the arc.

The South Sudan team features a few players that have NBA experience, including Wenyen Gabriel, Marial Shayok, Carlik Jones and 2025 NBA Draft prospect Khaman Maluach.

Jones, who was G League Player of the Year last season for the Windy City Bulls, shared how much it meant to him to qualify for the Olympics.

“It means the world, it means the world to the people back home,” said Jones, who was born in Cincinnati to Sudanese parents. “It’s just a blessing.”

With the help of Deng and obviously the team’s great play, South Sudan will have a chance to compete for a gold medal in the Paris Olympics in 2024.


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