Luol Deng has led the league in minutes per game the last two seasons and played in 75 of the Bulls' 82 regular season games last year, so when he was seen wobbling down a United Center hallway with his head down, looking weaker than ever before Game 6 of the Bulls' first round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, something was clearly wrong.
CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam was first to report that what was first described as "flu-like symptoms" by head coach Tom Thibodeau prior to the Bulls' loss to the Nets, was in actuality a spinal tap, a procedure "which drew fluid from his back and brain to ensure that he didn't have viral meningitis," that caused Deng to be sent home from the United Center.
One day later Deng was back in a Chicago-area hospital emergency room after suffering from side effects of the procedure. He wound up missing Game 7 -- before that game he took to Twitter to explain the reality of his situation, noting that his side effects included "the worst headache I've ever experienced and the weakest I've ever felt" -- and the entire series against the eventual-champion Miami Heat.
And Friday, in a Q+A with NBA.com, Deng expanded even further on just how serious his condition was in May.
“Obviously there are some things that you can’t handle. You can’t really handle getting sick, being taken to the ER or going to the hospital," Deng told Pawel Weszka. "I got the spinal tap and that’s where it went all wrong. My body didn’t react well to the spinal tap. I had some serious side effects that not only didn’t allow me to play basketball, but really put my life in danger.”
"It’s something that I wouldn’t want anyone to go through, but when I went through it, I think that basketball became second – especially that because what I went through health wise, my family was very worried. I never want to experience something like that again," Deng added.
During the Miami series, Sam reported that Deng underwent a second procedure, barely shoot in practice and even noted he "couldn't control [his] body." He also noted vomiting, constant diarrhea, losing weight and emotional struggles standing on the sideline while his teammates battled Goliath in LeBron James and Miami.
But his comments Friday shed new light on his condition, that this wasn't just Deng feeling woozy or suffering from "flu-like symptoms," which at the time Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson were battling. Deng has proven himself the last three seasons, totaling more than 8,000 regular-season minutes and more than 1,000 playoff minutes, so to see him unable to even suit up for an elimination game in Brooklyn or a series against LeBron James is telling.
He'll enter the 2013-14 season with one year left on his deal, when the Bulls will make a decision on whether he will become part of the organization's future alongside Derrick Rose. Two weeks ago Sam reported that Deng and the Bulls have begun talks on a possible extension, a move which, at the very least, will help Gar Forman gauge what Deng will command on the open market next summer. An NBA executive told Sam that Deng may seek $11-12 million dollars in a multi-year deal.
But most important for now, especially considering Deng's comments Wednesday, is that he'll enter training camp feeling healthy and without the thought that, as he put it, his life may be in danger. That, as much as anything, gives the Bulls a fighting change when the playoffs roll around.