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Luc Longley, the one who will forever remain the first Australian in the NBA

The NBA is the perfect theater for making childhood dreams come true, but the NBA also has the particularity of sometimes turning off the light even faster than it turned it on. Off-peak time obliges, this summer we are looking at names that are familiar to us, some more than others, names that “mean something to us” but which no longer really make the first headlines. Stories that bring back a sweet melancholy. Cold Case Closed Cases but NBA version, with the ambition to give you some news of these guys who were once part of our daily lives. Second episode? An Australian legend returned to the fold: Luc Longley.

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And you, how long has it been since you heard from Luc Longley? Totally absent from the documentary The Last Dance where he would have had a lot to tell, the former pivot of the Bulls is still in contact with the orange ball, far from the NBA spotlight. Come on, let’s go for a little update.

On November 30, 1991, he became the first Australian player to play an NBA game. Drafted in seventh position by the Wolves the same year, Luc Longley will forever go down in basketball history as a pioneer who paved the way for several generations of Boomers for whom the American dream was suddenly allowed. However, beyond this simple accomplishment, Lucien James Longley will achieve a more than honorable career, symbolized by these three titles as the 5th holder position with Michael Jordan’s Bulls from 1996 to 1998. Arrived a few years earlier in Chicago after missing his debut in the big league in Minneapolis, the native of Melbourne will gradually find his place under the orders of Phil Jackson, to finally become a starter and essential cog of the Bulls. Over the three seasons that make up the second three-peat in the franchise, the 2m18 man will record around 10 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1 against on average in 27 minutes of playing time. Sometimes criticized by his leader for his inability to rebound despite his size (218 centimeters), sometimes praised for the good screens he puts on him, Luc will only retain the positive of this experience, he who will obviously never experience the same success again . Moreover, his absence of The Last Dance on Netflix had been criticized on many counts. If MJ himself regretted this, Longley then had time to respond with his own documentary, where he also returned to his relationship with His Airness :

“Why wasn’t I in the documentary? To be honest, I don’t know. Since they hadn’t interviewed me, I didn’t expect to be in it much, but I thought I was in it more than that. The Australian who underestimates me thinks that I was not very sexy, not very spectacular despite my important role. There were so many stars, brilliant players that it made sense not to talk about me. […] I am deeply grateful to MJ for showing me how to become a better basketball player, for compensating for my weaknesses with his intelligence. You don’t have to like a guy to be part of his team, to be interested in him, to play basketball together. I didn’t like MJ. I thought MJ was difficult and unnecessarily hard on his teammates and probably on himself. But at the end of the day, we found a way to respect each other on the pitch and coexist, and that was cool. »

That period was over once the Bulls’ rebuilding began, Longley was sent to Phoenix. He would later land in New York in a four-team trade and silently retire in 2001, too hampered by injuries to continue the charges. His career behind him, Luc will then consider a new life far from the parquet floors: “ when i stopped playing, basketball became an ex-girlfriend to me. “Ah. Nice for our favorite sport Luc, thank you. Back in Australia, the latter will still have trouble hanging up completely, and will notably invest in the Perth Wildcats club, of which he will become a shareholder for several years. On personal plans ? The old man will be entitled to sympathetic recognition by being introduced to the Australian Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and squarely to the Australian SPORT Hall of Fame in 2009. Well, that’s all well and good, but it’s not really enough for our friend Luc, that the distance with the ball is really starting to drive him crazy:

“Over the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about the game and found myself watching games on TV all hours of the night. It started to itch again. »

Shit, here we go again. Wishing to return to the edge of the field, in contact, Luc will then turn to the team of which he has the best memories: the Bulls the national selection. And yes, a little reminder more than important. Even before making his NBA debut, Longley took part in the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Already a starting pivot for the Boomers, the latter will bring his team to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in its history. Not present in 1996 due to injury, he will still participate in the 1992 and 2000 Olympics, still as a starter, and will once again snatch fourth place during his last participation. It’s quite simple, like a Tony Parker for France, the boy only has eyes for his country. The country which made him grow, which gave him his first opportunities, to which he considers a duty. What could be more normal then, than to return the favor? Close to Brett Brown, at the time head coach of Team Australia, Longley will then try his luck:

” I have saw again Brett at a camp he there has of them year and I him have said that I was interested by participating. Browny my involved. He has said that he would love that I ugly with his Big Men, this who was perfect for me. »

Neither one nor two, now our friend finds himself unofficially helping the interiors of the selection, before everything becomes official very quickly. In 2013, after the departure of Brown, replaced by Andrej Lemanis at the head of the national team, Luc Longley became assistant coach in charge of the 4-5 positions. Among the new disciples of the triple NBA champion? A certain Aron Baynes, already. Due to his stature and his career, the voice of the former Bulls carries and counts. His interventions are carefully listened to and his ability to federate is highly appreciated by all the players and staff. The guy will also take boys like Thon Maker or Isaac Humphries under his wing… but something is wrong: the Boomers fail to win. Although they managed to return to the semi-finals of the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, for the first time since 2000, it is once again in chocolate that their medal will be. And it is not the titles of champions of Oceania that satiate the Australians. After a new “failure” in 2019 during the World Cup where they nevertheless reached the semi-finals for the first time to – again – finish in fourth place, Luc Longley decides to ” sacrifice » by leaving the ship to facilitate the transition of the selection, a year before the end of his contract. Fate is therefore all the more cruel now that we know that the Boomers will win the first medal in their history at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, a victory to which a very moved Luc nevertheless paid tribute:

“It’s the pinnacle of all Australian basketball players and what we were heading towards year after year. I’m so proud of each of them and the work done by the coaching staff, who managed to form this team in such a short time. After the defeat against the USA [en demi-finale, ndlr.] and that old feeling of ‘it starts again’, it was just awesome, so good. »

But then what was Mister Longley doing while the gang at Patty Mills realized one of their wildest dreams? Well the former Bulls was in charge of the basketball department of the Kings of… Sidney. More precisely “special adviser” of the NBL club (National Basketball League, the Australian first division), the latter deals in particular with the recruitment of staff members, even players. In fact, Luc has the right to intervene wherever he pleases. There, he is simply nicknamed the “sensei”. As much to tell you that it does not flinch when the guy has something to say. For the record, he regularly rubs shoulders with a certain Andrew Bogut who, after having finished his playing career there, recently invested in the team. Returned to his post this summer, it would therefore seem that our friend can continue his journey in Sidney where he explains that he feels good in his role. In a virtual anonymity – he is still 2m18 eh – for all those who do not live in Australia, the latter therefore seems to have truly found the balance he was looking for when he ended his career, more than two decades ago.

To only 53 years old, Luc Longley still has many good years ahead of him. Discreet player, discreet assistant, discreet adviser, it’s no wonder we can wonder what became of him. However, if 31 Australian players have to date walked the NBA floors, including ten scheduled for 2022-23, it is largely thanks to the hope aroused by the arrival and success of the pivot in the Big League. Here we are, therefore, perfectly aware of what is becoming, and we are reassured to see that everything is going for the best.

Text source: ESPN / / The Daily Telegraph / The Sydney Morning Herald / Fox Sports / Basketball Reference

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