Bulls Lead

Deng Gets Well-Deserved Storybook Ending as a Bull

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Some concepts are things you have always known. There’s no specific moment marking their inception. Rather, it’s simply how things have always been, and you don’t know any different. For me, one of those things is being a Chicago Bulls fan.

Being born in Chicago and raised in the suburbs, the Bulls were my NBA team. I never questioned it. I just accepted it. Now my Bulls fandom has become a defining characteristic of who I am. But it wasn’t until I was around 8 years old that I took ownership of my Bulls fandom.

I was a baby when Michael Jordan returned to the Bulls. While I like to think of my birth as an event that helped jumpstart the Bulls’ second three-peat, I never got to experience that thrilling time first-hand. I never watched the Bulls win a championship. I never watched Jordan play live, so that dynasty and Jordan’s role in that success isn’t a nostalgic memory to me like it is for countless other Bulls fans. Albeit important, I only know it as history, because I’m not in that generation of basketball fans.

It wasn’t until I started playing basketball in 2004 that I gave my full attention to the NBA. Fortunately, I missed out on the Tim Floyd-coached Bulls and started with the Baby Bulls, watching guys like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Andres Nocioni.

A lot of people will say they loved the Baby Bulls because of the potential they showed and the hope they – despite their youth and inexperience – provided fans with after seasons of losing, and losing a lot. I agree with those sentiments, but what I loved most about the Baby Bulls is how they helped me turn my interest in the sport into a love for the game.

Because of that and how I grew up with them, the Baby Bulls are just as important to me as Michael Jordan is to any Bulls fan.

I knew about them, watched them, and read about them. I looked at their box scores in the sports section of the Chicago Tribune on a regular basis. But there wasn’t anything in particular about them or a certain quality about them that made me love basketball.

The Baby Bulls just made it easy for me to love them and basketball.

One of my favorite basketball players, Luol Deng was one of the Baby Bulls who helped me learn to love basketball. He played a key role on that young team, but he was more than just one of the most well-known players from that era of Chicago basketball.

In nine and a half seasons, Deng went from star rookie to key role player to two-time All-Star to versatile veteran.

On Thursday, Deng returned to Chicago so he could end his career where it began, signing a one-day contract to retire as a Bull. Not everyone gets to finish out their playing days in an ideal manner, but this is a well-deserved, perfect ending to Deng’s long, esteemed career.

Beginning his NBA career as a rookie for the Bulls in 2004, Deng eventually grew into a leader and one of the team’s best, most reliable players before leaving the franchise via trade in 2014.

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I want my basketball story as a player to end where it began, bookends to a dream come true. I can wholeheartedly say that one of the greatest moment in my life was being drafted by the @ChicagoBulls. A childhood dream. To be part of a storied franchise and have it serve as the foundation of my legacy. I learned some of my greatest lessons while battling on the court wearing red and black. I made lifelong friends and brothers here. No matter where I’m traveling, I always seem to run into Chicago natives that remind me of how special this part of my life was and is. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank The Bulls organization for making this possible; for welcoming me back so graciously and allowing me to bring my career to a close on such a memorable note. And to all the Bulls fans, I am eternally thankful and grateful for your love and support throughout my career. THANK YOU! No question, the best sports city in the world. Much love. Signing off, #9.

A post shared by Luol Deng (@luoldeng9) on

Deng helped the Bulls make the playoffs eight times. He was integral during their elite years in the early 2010s, becoming a two-time All-Star under head coach Tom Thibodeau. He made a name for himself in the league by being a versatile player.

Need someone to stop LeBron James? Someone to score? A glue guy? A leader? Some steady, veteran presence?

Deng was your guy, because he could — and would — do it all. He didn’t average nearly 40 minutes per games for three consecutive seasons for no reason.

It wasn’t the talent that made him stand out, though. He played with more talented, athletic, flashy players like Derrick Rose. He was never the star, never the top player, but he always played with heart. His commitment and willingness were never questioned. Combine that sacrifice and determination with his basketball abilities, and it’s no wonder he was such an important member of the Bulls for nearly a decade.

It’s also no wonder his name is all over the place among the Bulls’ all-time franchise leaders: no. 6 in games, no. 5 in minutes, no. 4 in points, no. 9 in rebounds, no. 5 in steals, no. 5 in field goals, no. 8 in 3-point field goals, no. 8 in free throws and no. 10 in blocks.

Given those numbers, allowing Deng to have his storybook ending was the least the Bulls could do to repay him for his years of service. He deserves that respect from the team he gave his heart (and body) for.

Simply put, it’s heartwarming to see the Bulls extend that respect to a franchise great. Because — stints with the Cavaliers, Heat, Lakers and Timberwolves aside — Deng is a Bull through and through.

While with the Timberwolves last year, Deng even said, “No matter what I do for the rest of my career, I think I’ll always be a Bulls guy.”

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I want my basketball story as a player to end where it began, bookends to a dream come true. I can wholeheartedly say that one of the greatest moment in my life was being drafted by the @ChicagoBulls. A childhood dream. To be part of a storied franchise and have it serve as the foundation of my legacy. I learned some of my greatest lessons while battling on the court wearing red and black. I made lifelong friends and brothers here. No matter where I’m traveling, I always seem to run into Chicago natives that remind me of how special this part of my life was and is. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank The Bulls organization for making this possible; for welcoming me back so graciously and allowing me to bring my career to a close on such a memorable note. And to all the Bulls fans, I am eternally thankful and grateful for your love and support throughout my career. THANK YOU! No question, the best sports city in the world. Much love. Signing off, #9.

A post shared by Luol Deng (@luoldeng9) on

Chicago will always be where he got his start.  It will always be where he grew up and established himself as a legitimate NBA player. Now it will also always be where he finished his career.

It’s an especially pleasing thought for his fans. Due to this degree of separation, it feels as though we can’t ever truly extend the proper gratitude and admiration to the players we admire. We don’t usually have the opportunity to do such a thing.

But now are at least left knowing the franchise that allowed Deng’s basketball dreams to become a reality is treating him well and valuing him for us. Because he’s made an impact on us, on the Bulls, on Chicago.

Follow us on Twitter @BullsLead for the latest Bulls news and insight.

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About Ashley Wijangco

Ashley is a writer based in the Chicago suburbs who has over seven years of sports writing experience. She writes about the Bulls and general NBA content for TLSM. Twitter: @wijangco12

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