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Bruce Ratner's other "project": returning a Sudanese slave to dignity

Forest City Ratner

Ker Deng is not a basketball player, but like Luol Deng, he is a member of South Sudan's largest tribe. As Rich Calder reports in the Post, he's also someone an NBA owner has taken a great deal of interest in. Ker Deng is Bruce Ratner's latest project.

Ker is a Sudanese teenager who became a slave in his country's brutal civil war. He was blinded by his master who had rubbed peppers in his eyes, hung him upside down from a tree over a fire for the master's sport and forced to pick tea leaves from dawn to dusk. When the master believed Ker was useless, he was released and rescued by Christian Solidarity International, a group Ratner's sister, Ellen, is involved with.

The Nets minority owner had traveled with his sister to South Sudan in 2011 and met Ker through CSI. He told Calder of his first meeting with Ker. "While other children were playing, [Ker] was sitting down in a chair all day with his head down," Ratner recalled. "But when I spoke to him, I realized he had an infectious smile and amazing personality."

He brought Ker to the United States and has paid for his treatment, which includes retinal attachments. He's helped prepare him for congressional testimony on the horrors of Sudan. He's taken him to Nets games, where Ratner calls out "pass," "dribble," "shoot" to help Ker understand what's going. He can finally make out colors, sizes and shapes. And he has met Jay-Z.

Ratner has enrolled him in a school for the blind in Massachusetts and Ellen Ratner says he’s "doing well there, excelling in math and physics" and learning to play the piano. "I am a very pushy Jewish mother," Ellen Ratner told Calder. "So I want him to be president of South Sudan some day,"