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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Luol Deng sat atop the podium made up specifically for him on the side of a meeting room usually filled with tourists and soaked in the view.
He fielded question after question about anything reporters seemed to throw out at him and actually seemed be enjoying himself for a majority of the time.
After years of waiting, he was finally an All-Star. For Deng, Friday's media session was just the beginning of an experience he thought he deserved to be a part of for a long time.
"I've had seasons where I felt like I've played at an All-Star level," Deng admitted. "I've really had seasons where I've felt like I was playing as well as a lot of people in it. At the end of the day, you can't really control those things. It's a lot of guys that are not here that I think should be here. But at the same time, you look at who's here and you're like, 'So you put those guys in and who do you take out?' And you're like everyone kind of deserves it. It's really tough. But I've had seasons where I felt like I could have been here before."
|Luol Deng proved worthy of his All-Star bid when he stepped up in Derrick Rose's absence for the Bulls.|
So have his teammates and coaches. That's why fellow All-Star and teammate Derrick Rose was so proud to share the stage with the veteran forward.
"I'm super happy for Lu," Rose said. "Lu is someone [who] I think deserves it. I know he's been playing great for us, been consistent the whole year, and I just can't wait to see him out there."
Neither can Bulls head coach (and Eastern Conference head coach) Tom Thibodeau.
"He's been great," Thibodeau said. "And quite honestly, and I'm biased, I thought he should have made it last year. But usually that's what happens. I think when you look at his contributions to winning, his leadership ability, he's a complete player, he plays both sides of the ball. Very unselfish. Can guard four positions on the floor. You can't say enough about what he brings to winning. So I think he's earned his spot here."
Deng feels the same way. After all this time in someone else's spotlight, he feels like he's finally gotten the recognition he deserves.
"I'm very honored," he said. "It means a lot to me that I'm here and I'm selected. It just shows that people respect your game. But I told people before, if I wasn't here, I would be OK. I'm really honored and I'm excited. I'm still going to play hard. I'm still going to work hard. I still want to be the best basketball player I can be. Having this [experience] one day when I look back, I'll say I was an All-Star. But if I wasn't here, as hard as I work, I'd still be happy with what I put in."