Basketball legend Magic Johnson has claimed that Luol Deng can lead the Chicago Bulls to the NBA title.

His tandem with point guard Derrick Rose, last season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, has elevated Chicago into contention for the first time since Michael Jordan delivered six championships in eight years.

And Johnson, who won five titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, insists no-one should overlook the one-time Brixton Topcat’s contribution to their cause.

“Those of us who have played in the NBA know how good Luol Deng is,” said Johnson. “But this year he really became more explosive because he can hit the three point shot from outside. He’s always been a great defender, a great slasher, a great mid-range player. And now he’s added that consistency. And he’s really the key for the Bulls.

“We all know that Derrick Rose was the MVP but he needs Luol to play well and to defend well. Luol has to take on the best player on the other team night in and night out. And he’s done an amazing job.”

It is 20 years since Magic won the All Star MVP award after being voted in as a starter for the game, five months after retiring upon learning that he was HIV positive.

Returning to Orlando will bring back emotional memories of the reception he received from fellow players as well as the crowd support.

And the impact of that appearance lives on, he believes.

“When you think about it for ‑‑ well, let’s recall all the things that happened,” Johnson said.

“First the fans voting me in, Commissioner Stern allowing me to play, and I want to thank him.  Then I have to thank Tim Hardaway for letting me start in his place.  Then there was some uncertainty with players who didn’t know if they could play against me, what would happen.  So then also people saying can he still play?  So all of those things were factors and uncertainties in terms of before the game started.

“Then once the game started, we started playing basketball, and it was fun, it was great.  Then Dennis Rodman really I think he took it upon himself to show people, hey, he’s going to play hard.  He’s going to play aggressive.  And I think that that’s really calmed everybody down.

“Then, really, the way I played and performed let people know that I could still play.  Then winning the MVP, hitting those three three‑pointers in the fourth quarter just showed people, okay, Magic is back.  He can play.  He’s okay.  Yeah, you can play against him.  Nothing’s going to happen.  Those type of things.

“So it did a lot for the world.  It did a lot for HIV and AIDS all at the same time.  It did a lot for people dealing with not just HIV but anything else, that they can go on and live a productive life.  So the NBA, that All‑Star Game in Orlando educated the world, and it was great therapy for me ”

Main pic: BB/Mansoor Ahmed Photography.

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