British Olympic medalist, Sebastian Coe, once said, “Sport is a universal language, building more bridges between people than anything else I can think of.” The truth of this statement was on full display on November 9th, when a couple hundred people gathered in Chicago for Hoops in the Sky, a special event that raised $100,000 to support the work of the Luol Deng Foundation, as well as Gate to Ukraine.
This was not your typical fundraiser. Held at the exclusive Sky Court in downtown Chicago, attendees had the opportunity to participate in an NBA-style three-point contest, shooting hoops against the stunning backdrop of the Chicago skyline. Official Africa League basketballs were donated to the event by sports manufacturer, Wilson, and sold at the end of the night with Luol signing each one for the happy owners. A silent auction was also held featuring signed jerseys by Larry Bird, Shaquille O’Neil, Magic Johnson, and Steph Curry, among others.
Also auctioned were metal art items made by Ukrainians from pieces of destroyed Russian tanks. Representing the beauty that can come from something as ugly and destructive as war was a poignant reminder to event goers that the purpose of the evening, beyond the fun of the basketball contest and memorabilia, was to help people in two countries touched by war.
In South Sudan, where the Luol Deng Foundation works, refugees from war-torn Sudan have been flooding into the young country since war broke out in April of this year. The Luol Deng Foundation, established in 2005 by the South Sudanese native, two-time NBA All-Star and former Chicago Bulls player, works to empower youth through sports initiatives. Since April, they’ve welcomed young refugees from Sudan into their programs, offering them a place to belong and a sense of normalcy during this traumatic time.
Gate to Ukraine helps families suffering from the war there. What makes this organization so unique is that 100% of donations go directly to the families in need. Relying on a dedicated staff of volunteers, Gate to Ukraine carefully vets each family asking for assistance. So far, over 4,800 families have received financial aid through this organization.
Hoops in the Sky would not have been possible without the vision and tireless work of Konstantin Ekelman. The native Ukrainian, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child and loves basketball, held a similar fundraiser last year for the war effort in Ukraine. Upon meeting Jacob Ross, MATTER’s Vice President for MATTER Pro, earlier this year and hearing about the work of LDF, Konstantin was eager to give it a go again.
“What Luol’s foundation does with the youth is one of the most powerful things,” he said. “They are giving them hope. They are giving them the ability to see their lives further out and not just in the day-to-day. They are giving them dreams. It’s not about playing in the NBA, it’s about being the next leaders in their community and moving the generations forward.”
Supporting the event was Luol’s former team, the Chicago Bulls. “The Bulls are grateful for the opportunity to champion the impactful work by our very own, Luol Deng,” said Adrienne Scherenzel, Vice President of Community Engagement and Executive Director of Chicago Bulls Charities. “We have loved to see Luol follow his passion off the court and are honored to partner with him through events like Hoops in the Sky to improve the lives of those in South Sudan.”
In addition to the Chicago Bulls, MATTER wishes to thank the following sponsors for their generous support of Hoops in the Sky: Plantinum sponsor, GSF; also Scurto Cement Construction, Ecolab, Aleck Pain to Performance, Aleck Plumbing, Radoslaw Chrupek, Georgia-Pacific/Koch Industries, Michelle Nanni, Abby O’Rourke, Jordan Vinson State Farm, Semmer Landscape, P4 Security Solutions, The Will Group, Rick Jones, Anthony Brandsford, BDD Real Estate Management.
See highlights from Hoops in the Sky!