I got an e-mail from an unusual individual this morning.
Mixed among the political e-mails, the "find the right woman" e-mails and the x-rated spam mail, I received a message from Luol Deng.
If you're reading this, I'm sure you're familiar with Deng, the starting small forward for the Chicago Bulls. And when you think of Deng, you probably think of one thing — his basketball skills. I know that's what would come to my mind if "Luol Deng" came up in a game of word association.
But as I learned from Deng's e-mail, putting a ball in a hoop is far from his only concern. Deng, s native of Sudan, is putting hours upon hours of time into helping the refugees from not only his native country, but neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic as well.
I'd like to think I could use my own words to describe Deng's efforts, but his words — from the e-mail — speak more strongly.
Deng wrote: "Yesterday in Chicago, with the United Nations Foundation, and the Nothing But Nets campaign, I announced an emergency appeal for 40,000 bed nets to cover this unexpected displacement of Chadian refugees (and protect them from malaria). We need $400,000 to purchase and distribute these nets; as well as educate them on how to use the bed nets. Beginning yesterday, all the money donated through Nothing But Nets will be used for these 40,000 nets for the refugees from Chad until we meet our goal.
"Working with the United Nations and key groups such as MENTOR and UNHCR, we will start delivering these nets immediately and have teams on the ground making sure they are effectively used."
If you haven't received the e-mail and want to help, go to Deng's website.
Deng's not the only NBA player donating part of his summer — the time for players to rest after the grueling 82-games-plus-the-playoffs season — to helping a difficult situation in Africa.
Ron Artest, best known for his role in the Palace Brawl in 2004 and his emotional outbursts both on and off the court, is currently in Kenya helping to distribute 11 millions pounds of rice to hungry children in the impoverished country. The only reason we know about this? Well, Artest was suspended seven games this weekend for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge stemming from a domestic dispute with his wife in the spring.
If not for the suspension, Artest wouldn't have been sought out by the media, and thus we wouldn't know how he's spending his summer.
I won't argue that Artest is a great guy. He obviously has some issues that he needs to get worked out (and he seems to be making progress, having reunited with his wife and reduced his role in his Tru Warier record label).
But Artest doesn't have a bad heart. He's, in fact, doing a lot of good in Kenya as part of the NBA Players Association's "Feeding One Million" drive, and he didn't publicize his part in the good deed or send a flurry of pictures from Kenya until he was contacted about the suspension. Furthermore, he has decided to buy a house in the country so he can visit each summer to help out in the slums. He doesn't have to do this, but he is.
That's what's important.
Too often, we only hear about the transgressions of professional athletes. The Pacman Jones. The Tank Johnsons. The Albert Belles. While MLB and the NFL have their share of bad eggs, the NBA as a whole has been tabbed by mainstream America as a thug league, as a group of men who can't control themselves with all the money floating around.
And, believe me, I know there are several players who are nothing more than criminals in sports uniforms. But for every one of them, there are 10 pro athletes doing great things around the world.
Dikembe Mutombo may be best known for his finger-wagging after blocking shots, but he should be revered for funding a $29 million 10-acre, 300-bed hospital and research center in his hometown of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to Mutombo's website (http://www.dmf.org/aboutdmf1.php?show=missionstatement), "The Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center is one of the very few well-equipped and modern hospitals in the DR Congo. Mutombo believes the addition of this new facility will be effective in diminishing some of the major health gaps within his country."
But how many basketball fans know about Mutombo's effort, or Deng's, or Artest's, or the efforts of several other players to make this world a better place? Definitely not as many as those who know about Artest's off-the-court troubles. It's just the way the world works. Bad news travels much better than good news.
Still, that doesn't mean there aren't great things happening every day. Sure, the "NBA Cares" program is a publicity stunt to show that NBA players are proactive in their communities. That's pretty obvious. But the bottom line is that the players are in the communities, making a difference.
It doesn't matter if these acts get publicity or not. Regardless of whether they are celebrated, they are still happening.
And that's all that matters.
Plus, it's not every day you get an e-mail from one of the league's top small forwards.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Tuesday, 7/17/07's main point: Artest, others do good