It’s not often British basketball makes the UK sports news twice over a five-day period. Even during the London Olympics the men’s team was largely ignored, mainly because it won only once, while the rest of the Great Britain team went on the country’s largest gold run in Games’ history. This past week was different. Domestic basketball was (relatively) national news. Or to be more precise, Luol Deng was national news.
Because, you see, Luol Deng is British basketball. This is not a criticism. Far from it. Deng is the most important person operating within the small community, both on and off the court. The 27-year-old is ridiculously high profile when compared to his sport, that in Britain, is way off the charts in the opposite direction.
I wouldn’t blame you for not knowing Deng was British. Even the NBA website lists him, correctly, as being from Sudan. But the Chicago Bulls’ forward, in basketball terms, is British. It is where he developed his game, as a vulnerable teenage refugee. Now, he’s not only the face of the game in the UK, but also the voice. This has been confirmed yet again over the past week after he was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and following his letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on the matter of a funding cut to the sport.
Due to my personal views on all-star games, I feel the story about Deng’s selection merely gives basketball a bit of publicity in his adopted country. But the notion of a big sports star getting involved in matters of funding for his sport fills me with joy.
Without funding, British basketball could easily slip back into the dark ages. Despite the competitive nature of the men’s and women’s performances at the Olympics, the programs are set to lose all $13 million of government funding due to on-court “failure”. Basically, only sports where Britain can realistically win medals will be properly helped ahead of Rio 2016, and this despite an overall increase of 11% in funding to Olympic sports.
This isn’t just a basketball problem. Handball and volleyball are in the same boat too. All three were given hope in the run-up to London. All teams got spots at the Games, the word legacy was banded about so much that one wondered whether the event should have been renamed Legacy 2012. And now, as quickly as these sports entered the public conscience, they look certain to disappear from sight. At least basketball has Deng, an all-but world class performer, with a profile that might just help the game survive and grow. For the others, the chances of achieving even one national news story this year appear slim-to-none.