NBA star Deng shoots to top of British sport's rich list with £40m deal
London-raised basketball star goes from refugee camp to earning more than Beckham, reports Ian Whittell
Some fifteen years removed from life in an Egyptian refugee camp, the Great Britain basketball international Luol Deng will today join the elite of British sport's leading earners when he signs a six-year contract with the Chicago Bulls that could be worth as much as $80m (£40m).
Early yesterday Deng, 23, agreed the extended contract with the team where he has spent the past four seasons developing into one of the most promising young players on the world stage.
Last summer, as an indication of his potential, the historically frugal Bulls offered Deng a $57.5m (£28.75m) deal which the player rejected, a move which seemed risky as he and Chicago endured a disappointing season.
However, such is Deng's growing reputation, both on and off the basketball court, and so keen are the Bulls to build their team around the Sudanese-born forward, that yesterday the parties agreed a contract that guarantees him $71m (£35.5m) over six years.
Team and personal incentives can add a further $9m (£4.5m) but a weekly salary of around £120,000-130,000 instantly catapults Deng into the company of top-end Premier League footballers such as Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand on the £6.5m-per-year mark. Lewis Hamilton, Britain's highest paid sportsman, earns around £15m a year.
"I always said I would be happy to spend my entire career in Chicago," said Deng. "It is the team I supported growing up in London. I think both parties could have handled talks better last summer but the team had to look after their best interests. Now, I could not be more happy."
Deng's story is all the more remarkable given his childhood. His father Aldo, a government minister, was forced to flee from the second Sudanese civil war in the late 1980s, taking his family of 16 children first to a holding camp in Egypt before seeking and gaining political asylum in Britain.
Once he became established in South Norwood, south London, from the age of nine, Deng's basketball skills were developed at Brixton's renowned junior programme, where contacts helped him move to the United States for high school and college from the age of 14.
Deng still considers London his home and gratefully accepted an invitation to play for the British national team as they began preparations for the 2012 London Olympics last summer.Deng's impact was instant, with Britain winning promotion to the A Division of European basketball. The 6ft 9in player flies into Britain tomorrow as the national team prepare for September's qualifying games for the 2009 European Championship finals.
"I grew up in England and that alone tells you why I want to play for Britain," Deng said. "England was the country that took me and my family in and allowed me to do what I'm doing today. England has given a lot of kids a chance so I would love to give back and I do that playing basketball."
Deng's salary eclipses the basic $6.5m wage David Beckham will earn from LA Galaxy this year although the footballer's off-field wealth dwarfs that of the basketball player.
However, given Deng's extensive charity work – earlier this month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees became involved him in his latest project – and his obvious importance as an official ambassador for the 2012 Olympics, Deng may one day even challenge Beckham in that regard.