When the Chicago Bulls traded for Luol Deng in the 2004 NBA draft, it marked the start of a long, roller coaster ride of a relationship that ultimately ended on good terms.
On Oct. 17, 2019, over 15 years after entering the league, Deng signed a one-day contract with the Bulls, giving him a chance to retire with the organization that not only drafted him but the one he spent nearly 10 seasons with.
By the time Deng’s days as a Bull were over, the two-time All-Star had solidified his status as a franchise legend. Per Basketball Reference, he is ranked in the top 10 of numerous all-time categories for Chicago: No. 6 in games played, No. 5 in minutes played, No. 5 in field goals, No. 10 in 3-pointers, No. 8 in free throws, No. 9 in rebounds, No. 5 steals and No. 4 in points.
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A month after formally retiring as a Bull, the organization honored Deng during one of its home games at the United Center. He received a standing ovation from the fans and was accompanied by many of his former Chicago teammates: Nazr Mohammed, Joakim Noah, Aaron Gray, Jannero Pargo, Tyrus Thomas, Ben Gordon and John Lucas III. The game was against the Detroit Pistons. At the time, Derrick Rose was a member of the team, so Rose also got to witness his former teammate be acknowledged.
Before being honored, Deng told Bulls.com and other reporters how meaningful it was to close out his career in the way he did:
Chicago means a lot to me. When you look back, just my career as a basketball player, coming here as a young kid, a young man I should say, 19, it’s a lot of history here and I wanted it to end the right way and the best way to do it is with familiar faces and with people who know me very well. I was blessed to play for so long and I wanted to walk out my way, healthy. I felt it was the right time.
Now, Deng wants the same for his former Bulls teammate Noah.
At the start of March, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Noah, who spent nine years with the Bulls, would be retiring from the sport with plans to eventually do so as a Bull — just as Deng did.
Later in March, the Bulls tweeted a video in attendance at a home game and was even honored with a tribute video. However, the Bulls are not allowing fan attendance yet, so the experience was not the same as Deng’s.
Joakim Noah in the house for Bulls-Jazz tonight. Bulls played a tribute video between first and second quarter break, set to Chance the Rapper’s “Finish Line.” Noah announced his retirement from basketball earlier this month pic.twitter.com/PfUtKLvXJA
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) March 23, 2021
While there has been no official word whether Noah will actually go the same route as Deng with a one-day contract and in-game honoring, Deng expressed the desire for such in an episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast with NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson:
I would encourage Jo to push it till everything opens up. I think the fans deserve it. I think he deserves it. He gave, you know, the organization everything. Like, I could — even playing on a lot of different teams, I could honestly tell the fans I haven’t met or played with someone like Jo, where it was just all out. I’m not even talking about being the best scorer or being the best ‘this.’ It was just all out, and it was, you know, just consistent. It wasn’t like ‘here and there.’ It was the same. No matter what, it was the same energy, the same effort. Good or bad, it was the same Jo.
While Noah’s accolades with Chicago aren’t as plentiful as Deng’s his name is still listed on Basketball Reference in the top 10 for various categories of Bulls career leaders: No. 9 in games, No. 9 in minutes, No. 1 in offensive rebounds, No. 4 in rebounds, No. 3 in blocks and No. 3 in triple-doubles. Noah’s two All-Star nods also came while he was in a Bulls uniform.
Seven years ago today, Noah was named the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 21, 2014
The former teammates were recently in Miami together. Noah posted a photo of them on Instagram with the caption “All you have in the end is your people. Always good to see you brother.” Deng followed suit by reposting the image, captioning it, “All you have in the end is your people. Always good to see you brother.”
Back to the Baby Bulls
In the Bulls Talk Podcast, Deng also addressed his time as a member of the historic 2004-05 Bulls team, aptly referred to as “the Baby Bulls.” The team was led by then-third-year bigs Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, sophomore guard Kirk Hinrich and four rookies in Deng, Chris Duhon, Ben Gordon and Nocioni. Chicago started the season 0-9 but ended up with a 47-35 record that was good enough for the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
Deng called it “a blessing” to be drafted with his fellow Bulls rookies even if he didn’t initially see it as such:
Everyone was kind of unique in a way where there wasn’t any bad guys. There wasn’t any selfish guys. It was just guys that are hungry and would do whatever it takes to just play hard.
Deng also recalled his relationships with Gordon and Nocioni and how they pushed him to be better. Nocioni challenged him in practice, because the two faced off there. Meanwhile, he and Gordon competed to see who would be the harder worker, finding each other at the gym late at night and in the morning before practice.
Additionally, Deng gave that team and that time credit in helping him become the player Bulls fans became fond of:
It kind of shaped me to identify what I really wanted to be or how I wanted to play the game.
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