Our Game. Our Stories.
The essence of soccer is captured in the fact that it connects a wide variety of people in a dynamic way. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are profiling 20 individuals who have made a significant impact on the game of soccer or who have been impacted by soccer in a positive way. Here, we will show you the diversity of the beautiful game and how it connects everyone as one universal team...Together, We Are Soccer.
This is our game and these are our stories. Be sure to visit our site every week to see who we feature next!
Luol Deng is a professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Born in Wau, Sudan (now South Sudan) he relocated as a child to Egypt with his family before settling permanently in the United Kingdom, eventually gaining British citizenship. While growing up in Africa and Europe, soccer played an important part of Luol’s childhood. In his teens, he moved to the United States to pursue basketball. Currently, he is a Forward with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Luol is a two time NBA All-Star and spokesperson for the World Food Programme.
Did you grow up playing soccer? Which position did you play?
Midfield and striker.
I tried, but I hated defense. I wanted to score and celebrate.
Were there a lot of opportunities to play soccer when you were growing up?
In England there was a lot. But I played in Egypt too. That’s where I started, then when we moved to England, I played for the school and then I played for a club.
How old were you when you started playing?
Soccer? Since day one! Since I was one year old.
At what point did you decide to focus solely on basketball?
When I was 13.
When you were growing up, you were in so many different countries, which soccer players or teams did you idolize as a kid?
Arsenal was always my team. We were in Egypt and I was watching TV and Arsenal was playing in the Champion’s League. For some reason back then, I really liked their uniforms. They also had a player, Ian Wright, who was a great player and I loved watching him. At the time, I didn’t really know that was Arsenal, I just supported that team because of the colors and the player. Then when I moved to England it happened to be the team that everyone liked, and Ian Wright happened to be from the town we were moving to.
Soccer is considered the world’s game. Why do you think this is the case?
Soccer is the easiest to play. All you need is a ball. Whether you have shoes or not, you can put rocks as the posts. You just find an open space. With basketball you need hoops, it’s hard to play outdoors and sustain it. Soccer you just need the ball.
Growing up playing soccer, is there anything you learned or applied to basketball?
Well my footwork is one thing, it really helped my footwork a lot. Also my endurance, being able to be in great shape and pretty much run the whole game.
Sports in general has a big impact on youth, do you see soccer having an even bigger impact because of its reach and availability?
All sports do, soccer players are known the most worldwide because it is the easiest sport to play and it’s the number one sport in the world. It’s easy for every kid to relate to, no matter where you’re from, because soccer is so international.
Do you have any memories of soccer growing up?
I have so many memories. My biggest memory of soccer is when we used to make the ball. We used to get a balloon and put a towel over it. Then you take duct tape and you tape it around the towel and balloon. It is amazing how good of a ball it is.
How did you get the balloon to be round?
It doesn’t have to be round, you just blow up the balloon and the balloon could be an oval shape. Once you get a towel, you have to cut it perfectly. Once you get it taped and move it, it comes around. It’s amazing how good it is, that’s what all my soccer balls were! The duct tape is strong enough for it not to burst.
Through our programs, we encourage children to eat healthy foods and teach them healthy habits using soccer. What is your favorite healthy snack?
Fruits! With me, peanuts, almonds, fruits, that’s the healthiest snack I can think of. I used to be bad with snacks, especially sweets. So what I did was just put peanuts and fruits in my house and when I’m hungry I have no choice but to grab those and it makes it easier.
What are your predictions for World Cup 2014?
I would like to see England, win it or do great. But I would also like to see an African nation do well. Last year, Ghana did really well, but they’re in a tough group this year. But Ghana or Ivory Coast, people don’t realize, when it comes to African countries, we don’t get caught up in the countries and borders. We see ourselves as one nation, so when one country does well, it brings hope to every country that that the talent is there. We are yet to see an African nation go to the final or win, you know? So hopefully we can see that soon.