I was thrilled to meet the team and especially Luol Deng after the game. When I wrote 'My Friend Jamal, I wanted to choose a fitting hero for Jamal to look up to and I thought Loul Deng would be the perfect role model. As a young boy he fled Sudan with his family and ended up in the UK. Deng played basketball in Brixton then won a scholarship to the USA and he now plays for the Chicago Bulls.
When I wrote the story in 2006, Deng was in his first years as an NBA player. In 2007, he won the NBA's sportsmanship award in a vote by players. The award honors the player who best exemplifies ethical behavior, fair play, and integrity on the court. For that award, the league donated $25,000 on his behalf to Pacific Garden Mission, the oldest continuously operating rescue mission in the country.
Deng also won the 2006–2007 Golden Icon Award for Best Sports Role Model and most recently, he won the 2008 UN Refugee Agency's Humanitarian of the Year Award as part of the UNHCR's ninemillion.org campaign to bring education and sports to millions of displaced children. You can see more about his on his website. I really admire his work and donate 10p from every Jamal book sold to his charaties (click on the pages about Luol Deng and 'giving back' for more information).
Back in 2006, I would never have guessed that Loul would be back in the UK playing on Team GB for the Olympics, so you can understand what a thrill it was for me to meet him in person! I gave him a copy of the book and couldn't believe it when he said he'd already read it! Then he signed my copy - I will SO treasure it.
The event kicked off with an opening ceremony, Olympic style. Each author was led out by children carrying images of their books and flags to an hilarious commentary. My little champions were slightly scared of the Gruffalo (who was also present) but we got there in the end!
Some of the picures are a bit blurry - but they capture the wild enthusiasm of the crowd! I made lots of new friends and ended the day signing some autographs myself!