Deng enjoys the memories at his Bulls retirement party
The Bulls aren't ready to retire any more numbers, but they held a retirement party Wednesday for longtime forward Luol Deng. He signed a one-day contract with the team before the season so he could retire as a Bull.
Drafted No. 7 overall in 2004, the Bulls went to the playoffs in Deng's rookie season with three other first-year players logging significant minutes -- Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon. Deng stuck around long enough to be a starter on the two Tom Thibodeau teams that finished with the league's best record from 2010-12.
"Man, it's so many good memories," Deng said before the game. "When you are going through it you really don't see it that way. I know we never won a championship, but there's a lot of good memories of how hard we played, how hard we battled growing up in front of the fans. Those are things you look back on."
After 10 seasons in Chicago, Deng went on to play for Cleveland, Miami, the Lakers and Minnesota. He was even pressed into service as a diplomat when his original home, South Sudan, became its own country.
Manute Bol, whose son now plays for the Windy City Bulls, taught Deng and his brothers how to play basketball at a clinic in Alexandria, Egypt. Deng's family eventually relocated to London and he became the face of British basketball.
"The crazy thing is, I didn't know America that well," he said. "I was in high school for four years, I was in a boarding school in New Jersey, Blair Academy in the middle of nowhere. I never left the campus. I went to Duke for one year and I came to Chicago.
"I lived in Chicago longer than anywhere else in the world. When you leave and go somewhere else you start to realize what kind of city it was and that not every city is like Chicago."
No sign of Nocioni:
Several former teammates of Luol Deng attended Wednesday's game to help celebrate his retirement. The list included Joakim Noah, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Aaron Gray, Jannero Pargo, Nazr Mohammed and John Lucas III. Deng chose this date because Derrick Rose was back with the Pistons.
Notably absent was Andres Nocioni, Deng's best friend on those early teams. A common sight in the locker room back then was Deng and Nocioni giggling about some joke. They were kindred spirits, two American immigrants who made it to the NBA. They were also next-door neighbors in Northbrook for a few years.
"We tried to get ahold of him," Deng said. "I (stayed in touch) for a while. I spoke to him a few years ago when he was still playing. I think he's back in Argentina and we couldn't get a hold of him. But he's somebody that I would have loved for him to be here.
"We were rookies together, but he was so much older than me that I was looking up to him. He played so hard that I was learning from him. And later on, young guys are telling me how hard I play and I always credited it to Noc."
Boylen accepts feedback:
Bulls coach Jim Boylen was asked before the game how his relationship with team management has gone through the team's disappointing 5-10 start.
"Since I've been here, I've never felt more supported than I am right now, from ownership, management and John (Paxson)," Boylen said. "We talk every day and communicate and we're in step in a lot of ways. We're also in step with our frustration in that we'd like to play better more consistently."