Why Luol Deng wrote to David Cameron over basketball funding cuts

By Chris MitchellBBC Sport
Deng explains letter to Prime Minister

Luol Deng is clearly tired but he wants to talk.

The Chicago Bulls forward, back after missing five games through injury, has just played his first game in almost two weeks. A win over Michael Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats.

We are in the Chicago Bulls locker room - where Jordan once changed in and out of his famous number 23 jersey.

Deng emerges from the showers, wraps his knees in ice and slams his feet down into a large tub of freezing water.

Now Britain's top basketball player is ready to talk about the letter he has sent to Prime Minister David Cameron demanding that the sport's funding is restored. British Basketball was told last month it would receive no money for Rio 2016 - a cut of £8.5m from the London 2012 cycle.

"When they told us about five to six years ago they we couldn't get to the highest stage and that basketball wasn't big enough in the UK, we ignored all that," said Deng, 27, who is reported to earn $13m (£8.23m) a year.

"We worked hard to get to the programme where it's at, to be able to play in the Olympics and be able to compete with the teams."

In his letter to the PM, Deng said he did not understand why public funding had been cut to nothing.

"The game has really developed and to cut the funding would just be taking a huge step backward when I feel like we're taking big steps forward," he said.

"I feel that basketball in the UK is the best it's ever been."

GB Basketball did not win a medal at the London Games, but they were never expected to win one.

Luol Deng's extraordinary life story is presented in this BBC profile

They did, however, emerge from obscurity to qualify - on merit - for two Eurobasketexternal-link competitions in a little over five years in the run-up to the Olympics.

Deng, who was born in Sudan but became a British citizen seven years ago after going to school in south London, was the star name in the Team GB side that was knocked out in the group stage at London 2012.

They lost out to eventual silver medallists Spain by just one point during the group stage.

But this is not about Deng saving his own skin or the skins of his other international team-mates.

"The biggest thing is the youth and the kids," he explained.

"Cutting this funding, yes it will affect us but I think it will affect them more, especially the inner-city kids because basketball is such an easy game to play.

"We have a lot of kids that are wasting a lot of time not doing something beneficial and we need to keep them to continue playing."

In his letter, he makes the point that, after football, basketball is the most popular participant sport in the UK for young teenagers. So, is he angry about the situation?

"I'm not an angry person," he said. "I'm just speaking out to let the Prime Minister hear me."

It is hard, in the locker room, after a win on home court, for us to get too deep. At one point, we are interrupted. Deng flashes a smile but he wants to make his point.

"Hey, this is serious!" he shouts across the room.

GB Basketball officials were making their case to UK Sport for a rethink on Wednesday. They will learn whether they have been successful by Friday.

Deng will not be drawn on who is to blame for the current situation, but it is obvious he believes the game has a social responsibility.

And I get the distinct impression Deng feels he has a role to play in that, too. He looks straight at me, holding my gaze.

"I'm passionate about it," he said. "This is my sport. I think anyone would do the same for the sport that they love and the sport that they play."