We’re going to take a look at Luol Deng and a scary event that nearly killed him while he was with the Chicago Bulls. For those who don’t know, during his time with the franchise, Deng was one of the hardest workers in the entire NBA. Not only was he the second or third scoring option for most of his time there, but he was also their most reliable defender, and became a two-time NBA All-Star.
Every night he would guard the opponent’s best wing player, play with incredible energy, made all of the hustle plays, did everything that did not show up in the box score. Under Tom Thibodeau, who’s obviously not known for resting his players, Deng led the league in minutes for two seasons, and averaged around 39 minutes a game for three straight seasons, leading the league in total minutes during that time frame.
That’s ridiculous, especially when you consider how active Deng was on both sides of the floor.
Even before Thibodeau became the head coach in 2010, Deng suffered through his fair share of injuries earlier in his career, so to demand this much from him — I don’t think it was fair. But, even with the heavy minutes and all of the pressure of playing in Chicago, Deng never complained. He continued to work and do everything to help his team win. Although he was never the face of the franchise, he was always the backbone.
However, Deng’s heavy workload was something that would come back to bite him. On January 21, 2012, in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, Deng injured his wrist. It was discovered that he had a torn ligament in his wrist, but the Bulls management did not want him to get surgery. It was assumed that they pressured Deng to play because the playoffs were close by.
According to a source, “management convinced him not to get surgery until after the season. Luol did what they asked.” But…the worst was yet to come. Approximately one year later, around the beginning of the 2013 playoffs, Deng would suffer through the worst moment in his entire life.
Apparently, the Chicago Bulls medical staff diagnosed him with meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. This condition typically causes things like loss of appetite, neck and back pain, headaches, and fevers. The Bulls suggested that Deng should get a spinal tap, a procedure where a needle is punctured into the spine to see what’s going on. This is a common treatment for people who have meningitis.
However, the spinal tap procedure ended up being a huge mistake. Deng’s body reacted horribly to the spinal tap, as it caused a spinal fluid leak from his body, which gave him severe headaches, neck pain and nausea, for months. According to Deng, he said, “I got the spinal tap and that’s where it went all wrong. My body didn’t react well to the spinal tap, I had some serious side effects that not only didn’t allow me to play basketball, but really put my life in danger.”
Now, the craziest part was that Deng did not even have meningitis. After the spinal tap, the doctors discovered that there was nothing wrong with him in the first place, other than having a common flu. So, the Bulls medical staff basically misdiagnosed Deng, brought him to the emergency room to get a spinal tap, which he didn’t need anyway, but then the spinal tap lead to complications that seriously put his life at risk.
On top of that, Deng lost 15 pounds in just a couple of days, but he still wanted to play in the playoffs. This was in 2013 by the way, and the Bulls reached the second round, where they’d face the Miami Heat, and eventually lose.
Deng literally got the spinal fluid leak one week before that series started, yet he still believed that he could play. That’s how much he wanted to help his team win. But fortunately, the Bulls medical staff said no and did not allow him to play because he was still recovering from the procedure, and was not in shape anyway.
After this crazy experience, Deng said that, “It’s something that I wouldn’t want anyone to go through, but when I went through it, I think that basketball became second — especially that because what I went through health wise, my family was very worried. I never want to experience something like that again.”
Despite going through all of this, Deng still loved to be there. He loved playing for the Bulls and wanted to end his career there, and did not have any bitter feelings about how they handled the situation. His teammates and coaches loved him, too.
In the last few years with Derrick Rose dealing with his injuries, Deng kept them competitive and even lead the team in scoring in the 2012-13 season. At the start of the 2013-14 season, Deng was continuing to play very well, leading the team in scoring again with 19 points per game, which was the highest of his career, but about 2 months into the season, the Bulls traded him away.
He was becoming a free agent in the summer of 2014, and I guess they did not want to pay him. Apparently, the Bulls management gave him a “take it or leave it” offer and refused to negotiate with him or his agent.
There were some good news, though. Eventually Deng would sign with the Miami Heat and had a great two seasons there, as he bounced back very well. He averaged 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game, and also helped Miami make the playoffs in 2016.
Unfortunately, that was the last time we saw Deng play like his former self. Okay, I know the Lakers signed him to a four-year $72 million deal in 2016, which now looks like one of the worst contracts in history, but honestly… I’m happy for him. For all the stuff the Bulls put him through, he deserved better.
His former teammates and coaches have said amazing things about him. One former teammate said, “I love him. I can’t say enough good things about him. He is such a smart player, plays the game the right way & is such a good dude. He’s a culture setter. He’s a leader.” Another said “He would sing, dance, crack jokes, play soccer in practice, just an all-around happy guy and he’s another great teammate that I’ve played with.”
As a player who played his heart out every single game, worked as hard as anyone, never complained about anything, yet barely got the credit he deserved either — Deng was the ultimate teammate, the ultimate glue-guy, and at one point, he brought life to a franchise who was suffering through the post-Michael Jordan era.