Downtown Chats with NBA Champion Luc Longley

Recently the Downtown podcast crew had the opportunity to speak with 3-time NBA champion and number 7 selection in the 1991 NBA Draft, Luc Longley. The discussion covered a variety of topics from his days with the Bulls (MJ, Pippen & Rodman), Danté, Patty Mills and the San Antonio Spurs as well as his time involved with the Perth Wildcats. In usual Downtown fashion, however, we regularly strayed from the centre line and what ensued was a really enjoyable and entertaining discussion.

We hope you enjoy…

Liam Santamaria: Luc, you were the seventh pick of the 1991 NBA draft, what memories do you have of the week leading up and of the day itself?

Luc Longley: Yeah well, firstly let’s get it out of the way right now, my memory is rubbish. So half I can’t remember and the other half is probably wrong. But I remember squeezing myself into a suit which was pretty much the first time I’d ever done that, no it was really the first time I had worn a, you know, tailored suit made up for me.  I got a fancy shirt and had a haircut and, yeah, it was pretty intimidating really in a lot of ways. It was all in New York so they took us to New York and gave us the tour of New York’s basketball lore; you know the street playgrounds and the whole thing. I was obviously there with ten or twelve of the best players in the country, in my senior group, and I suppose coming out of Perth and even maybe with just my nature and the way things happened, I never really took myself as seriously as I probably should have at that stage.

I never really thought I was going to make it; somehow I just didn’t believe it was ever going to happen. And, I suppose now that it’s happened, I was the first Australian to be drafted in the first round, so I can be forgiven for being pessimistic. But, I still couldn’t believe it on draft day, when you know, I looked over at my agent, he kept telling me I was going to go somewhere between five and ten, and he was right in the end. The one place I didn’t want to go was Minnesota but we’ll put that to the side for one moment, we’ll put that away, I was just excited mate. What was I, 20, or 21? Something like that. I was overwhelmed and I couldn’t wait to start playing against the best guys in the world.Tommy Greer: Luc, you got to work with Danté Exum during the FIBA Oceania Series last year, what was it that struck you about him in terms of his ability or potential?

Longley: Probably, with Danté, the thing that everyone talks about is his poise. He’s very poised for a young fella. He makes really good decisions with the ball, doesn’t seem to get carried away too much, which I like about him. I did speak to him before he made the decision to go to the draft and I advised him, for what it was worth, to stay in college. So he obviously didn’t listen to me. Because I think he’s still a young man physically and it’s a very, very physical league. It’s a lot of games and a lot of pressure and… I call it ‘mushrooming’. I think it’s good to grow up in the dark a little bit. My four years of college were really good for me. I went from being a boy to a man and no one could see the little mistakes I made, it wasn’t the glare of the NBA. It was somewhere else in the dark so to speak.

I think he’ll be fine and I think that poise will serve him well. I think physically he’s probably going to get really tired in the first year or two and other teams will go at him because he’s been a high draft pick and there’ll be lots of pressure on him. But he’s well equipped and certainly he’s talented and he can do a lot of things that we haven’t seen in Australia much. He can go get his own shot at pretty much any time. He’s quick enough, he’s got a nice first step, and he’s quite explosive - deceptively explosive. I think he’s probably always played with a massive athletic advantage and he’s not going to have that at the NBA.Greer: What sorts of things can Danté expect post draft? You know, whether it’s on the court or off the court? We got a chance to talk to Bogut about this as well, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

Longley: Well, post draft from my own experience you’ve still got to get a contract done with the team. I didn’t get on the court with the team to practice until December, so the season was already 20 games old.  There’s a natural progression, draft pick versus salary. And if your team for whatever reason decides to mess around with that – you know, play silly buggers – which my team did… that’s always an anxious period.

Once you get your contract signed and put away, then there’s the excitement of getting your first pay cheque. I hope he gets better advice than I got though… my old man said, “Son I think it’s important that you don’t ever take money too seriously, you should spend your first pay check on oysters and champagne.” Well, I got a one million dollar signing so I had a bit of a tummy ache after that.

Santamaria: [laughs] Luc, I’m interested also in your thoughts on Cam Bairstow.  He’s come through your alma mater and he’s put his hat in the ring. There’s been talk about him impressing in the workouts. Have you seen much of him play and do you have expectations for him with regards to the draft?

Longley: Yeah well I’ve actually seen more of him play than I have with Danté.  Because he’s ben at New Mexico, I watched some of their games. But also he was with us in the China series last year where, from our point of view, he really burst onto the scene and carried that momentum into his senior year in college.  We take an awful lot of credit for his success in his senior year because we think that we, as the coaching staff for the Boomers, gave him a great springboard out of his summer. I’m a big fan of Bear’s.  He’s a handful because he’s actually really, really quick. His first step is really, really explosive and yeah he can guard really well in a pick and roll situation, he can shift his feet and get out and run. So for a four he’s quick but he’s always going to be undersized. We were always worried a little bit about his ability to finish in traffic, but he’s managed to prove us wrong so far.  In the China series and in the New Zealand series he had just such good elevation and, he’s just a determined fella, you know? I mean ‘Bear’ is perfect for him. He really is a good kid too; he’s another level kid. He’s really quite professional and quite mature. I don’t know where all these young sensible men are coming from ’cause they weren’t around in my day.

Brett Thomas: Hey, I remember a TV show, Luc, which you probably didn’t watch, called Beverly Hills 90210. The Walsh family left Minnesota for Beverly Hills, which is what Kevin Love is thinking about doing; leaving Minnesota. It’s where you spent your first couple of seasons, so you’re probably the best person in the country to ask this question… How desperately do you think he would want to leave Minnesota and move on somewhere else?

Longley: I’m probably not qualified to talk a lot about it because I didn’t watch a lot of Timberwolves games this year.  But by reputation he’s one of the best forwards in the league and he’s probably like everyone else in the second half of their career; dying to get a championship. If he’s leaving, it’s probably because he’s not convinced that they’re doing the right thing to get him a championship. I think players feel like their career needs to be capped off by a championship. I certainly wouldn’t have felt anywhere near as good about my career as I do if I hadn’t… well, I happen to have three championships… but even one! It’s validation in some way, and Tommy you’d know that.

Santamaria: Either that or he’s really, really cold.

Longley: Yeah. I made the rookie mistake of getting an apartment two or three blocks from the Target Centre where we trained and played. Thinking that’d be great, I’d be able to walk to practice, you know. It took me one week to realize that I was the biggest idiot around. Everywhere else in downtown Minneapolis is connected by catwalks on the third level – in America they’re called hamster cities. They’re like rodent houses that you can build holes and tubes between them.  Anyway, that’s what Minneapolis is like, so you don’t have to go outside because it’s so cold. Of course I rented an apartment in the one building in the whole town that wasn’t connected to the rodent tubes. So I had to go on the main road and I actually damaged my eye from it at one stage. I didn’t realize that when your eyes get itchy in the cold it’s a bad idea to rub them because it’s actually ice. You scratch your eyeball.  You rub your eyes and the ice scratches your eyeball. So, I still played but I don’t think I shot very well.

Santamaria: [laughs] You got out of there after a couple of seasons when you were traded to the Bulls. A couple of years ago at the G’Day USA event in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson described you as the Chicago Bulls ‘unifier’. What did he mean by that?

Longley: Well I’d have to ask Phil but, I think, well no I don’t have to ask Phil. I suppose I got along with everyone on the team. Not that there were guys that didn’t get along, but I probably had enough madness to reach Dennis and enough seriousness to meet MJ somewhere halfway and just tended to be in the middle of everything. And defensively, also, I was sort of our home base if you like. I was our captain defensively. It was generous of Phil… I don’t know if Mike would say that. But when you get him on, just ask him.

Santamaria: [laughs] We’ll do that, we’ve got him lined up for a couple of weeks.  Speaking of Michael, it’s 20 years on now from the period of time that we’re talking about and yet still he’s at the forefront of so many people’s minds. If you scroll through basketball feeds on Twitter people are still tweeting every day about his rookie year or his sophomore year or a picture of him somewhere. Obviously the Kobe and LeBron comparisons and all the books and the videos and everything keep him in the forefront of people’s minds as well. Is there anything about MJ’s personality that is not quite so well known to those that, like us, haven’t spent the kind of time with him that you have?

Longley: I suppose the thing to me… everyone knows about his great worth ethic and that sort of thing but the thing that, and it might be obvious but maybe it’s not… He had more than anyone I’ve met, and I’ve met a lot of cool cats in my time, you know, the rock stars and the whole lot… Leonardo DiCaprio, whoever you want… MJ had the most amazingly powerful natural charisma of anyone you’ve ever seen. I mean, he would walk past all of our wives and every one of their breasts would turn in his direction, involuntarily. He just has a natural, awesome charisma. And you can be feeling shit and all Michael had to do was wink at you after you dropped a nice pass and suddenly you were the world’s greatest basketball player.  I mean, obviously with Michael Jordan you wanted to be playing with him and you want to hook him up with a pass and that’s all good, but he really did have an amazing, just a bullshit-sort-of-level natural charisma that I’ve never come across. And, as I said, I’ve come across a fair spectrum of people and he’s one of a kind in that regard. I have heard other people have to defend him and play against him talk about being intimidated by just his presence, his charisma. It wasn’t just his basketball, well I suppose it’s all entwined isn’t it, but he definitely had something extra there.

Santamaria: Did that take a little while to get used to as a teammate? Because, when you’re on court with a guy or you’re training, you’re at practice, and you’re playing the kind of minutes with him that you were playing. I guess that kind of being in awe sort of, intimidation thing, you kind of need to move on from if you can. Did that take a little while to get used to?

Longley: Oh yeah, Phil and Mike and those guys did a good job. You know when I first got there it definitely was that for sure and I really had to sort of prove myself to MJ. I think probably the best time I proved myself to MJ the most was the first time I was injured.  He suddenly wasn’t getting screens and things weren’t happening and he realized how important I was to the team. So as soon as MJ knew that he needed me that did a lot for me. I suppose the other thing is that charisma cuts both ways. When he scathed you, you stayed scathed for a while. You know, he was pretty hard like that as teammate. But when you’re with each other every day and playing every day that all wears off reasonably well. Having said that, it’s always there, he’s Michael Jordan and he’s one pretty cool cat.

Santamaria: You just mentioned your shoulder… take us back to November ’96… how nervous were you dialling the phone to speak to Phil and letting him know that you were going to be out for 8 weeks because you’d just broken your collarbone body surfing. That can’t have been a fun phone call.

Longley: Yeah. I was really shitting myself. But, funny though… I mean I was shitting myself but it was more about phoning Michael and Scotty and those guys cause we all sort of had a fairly intense basketball relationship; we were relying on each other every night. So letting those guys down was probably the hardest bit. But two things pretty quickly dawned on me: firstly, 6 weeks off was going to be massive for my other injuries. I always carried tendonitis in my knees and that year they were particularly fierce.  And secondly that they’d learn how hard it was to play without me. So I sort of figured all that out and actually Phil was pretty cool after the initial bluntness. They did struggle without me and when I came back my knees were fresh and I played great. It all worked out in the end although I’ve still got an ugly shoulder. I could have taken 10 weeks and had the surgical option but I sacrificed my modelling career for the good of the team. I’ve still got a lumpy shoulder.

Greer: Luc, let’s bring it back to this year’s championship and obviously Patty and Aron winning the title this year. You being the first Aussie to go over there and win a championship, how proud of those guys were you watching on?

Longley: Ah look, I’m massively proud of them. I don’t even know where to start. I suppose it wasn’t just the fact that they won a championship – it was the way that team went about it. I mean, I’m sure you guys don’t need to be told but that was a win for basketball. You know timing and spacing and execution and teamwork over hero ball. So, I suppose it’s not a unique sentiment but I was proud. The way that the NBA gets played sometimes I find frustrating and I’m sure that they wouldn’t like me to say that but with the bigger three point line and the rules set up for the hero ball… for the Spurs and for two of our Australians to prove that basketball should still be played the right way, for me that was what I was the most proud of. The fact that there was Patty and Baynesy was just extra. But I was really pretty stoked for the way that went down.Santamaria: Well said, well said. Now Luc, there’s something Tommy and I talk about every year before we go into the finals. We try to predict who we think would be the last man standing on the championship winning team in the championship celebrations. Which is the guy who is still hanging on two weeks late and still partying? We picked Shaun Stevenson a couple of years ago but we found these Spurs a little bit harder to pick. How about your Bulls? Those three titles, who was the last man standing?

Longley: Well it wasn’t me because I can’t remember.

Greer: Rodman had to be around there somewhere. Was it Dennis?

Longley: The thing is with Dennis it’s hard to know where the partying starts and finishes. There’s not a lot of variation in his lifestyle between winning a championship and the middle of a season.

Greer: How crazy was Dennis back then? Post career he went to a new level of out there style but while you were playing with him, how wild was he?

Longley: Yeah look he’s… he’s a vexing… it’s a hard question because he was the most professional and amazing teammate in terms of how hard he worked, the way that he played the game, the way that he studied the game. His thoroughness with his preparation and his effort every night was probably, with the exception of Michael and maybe Scottie, the best I’ve every played with in my whole career. He was at that same level. And yet he somehow did all that with a lifestyle that… let’s just say that the reputation is only half the story. He’s a loose unit.

So, how he did that I don’t really know and he’s still going that hard. In fact he recently called me and asked me to go to North Korea for that exhibition game he had there.  I was tempted. At first I said I couldn’t wait, just to be around Dennis and to get a look at North Korea and all of those sorts of things. And then obviously, when I thought about it a bit more I came to my senses and didn’t go. Bloody glad I didn’t. I don’t know if you saw much of that. I knew there was a problem when I looked at the contract and, well, first of all it was a contract for Clyde Drexler.

Santamaria: [laughs] You got Clyde’s!

Longley: Yeah, I got Clyde’s.

Longley: And it wasn’t with Dennis’ agent or anyone like that, it was with Paddy Power, who is the biggest bookmaker in Dublin. I don’t know how a bookmaker from Dublin gets to put that whole thing together with Kim Jung-un and all that but the red flags started going up all over the joint and I ended up not going but it would have been really interesting.

Thomas: We’ve already got a political prisoner in Egypt so we don’t need another one in North Korea. Hey, we want to ask you about your Olympic career with the Boomers. You played in three Olympic games – Seoul, Barcelona and Sydney – which do you have the fondest memories from?

Longley: Well, Sydney because it was home and we were so close to a medal and it was all my mates who I’d been doing it with for a long time; Bradtke, Vlahov, Heal and Gaze… It was guys I’d been doing it with for my whole career. It was a bit of a swan song if you like. And we really felt legitimately like we were going to get a medal. We fell short which was a real shame.  Seoul I was still waking up, I didn’t really believe I was going to get picked for the Olympic team. Just too young to really - probably a bit like Danté is at the moment - still living moment to moment, enjoying it. Certainly the Sydney Olympics I hold dear and it’s probably the one regret, obviously everyone has regrets, the one regret is not getting an Olympic medal and that was our chance.

Thomas: Hey one more question about the Boomers, obviously the common theme there throughout those Olympic games was Andrew Gaze. We’re going to speak to Drewy on an upcoming podcast… He seems like the happiest man ever, have you got any dirt on Andrew Gaze at all that we could play to him when we interview him?

Longley: You know that’s the really frustrating thing… That’s why I don’t trust him. You can’t trust a man without a dark side, without a bad bone in his body. How do you trust someone like that? Anyone with no skeletons is not trustworthy; you know what I’m saying?

Greer: [laughs] Staying on the Boomers theme, how disappointing was it to hear that Bogut has had to pull himself from the World Cup this year?

Longley: Ah well it’s disappointing he’s not playing but I suppose I never really expected him to play given the circumstances and I completely understand why he’s not. I support him in not playing; obviously we’d love to have him though. I was more disappointed when Al Maric couldn’t come and play cause now we’ve got Baynesy and where we go from there I’m not sure with bigs. I’m in charge of the Bigs so I’m trying to see if my shoes fit at the moment, to give it another go. We’ve got Lukey Neville out there and we’ve got a young guy, Angus Brandt, who you wouldn’t have even heard of…

Greer: Nah we’ve heard of Angus Brandt. We saw that he’s signed on with the [Sydney] Kings.

Longley: Yeah he’s got quite a nice body and he’s coachable but he’s still young and green. He might even have to have a look for us. Kazzouh’s getting married, Maric is injured… like, we are going to struggle for bigs. So really disappointed with that. But we’re just going to have to adjust the way that we play and go from there.

Greer: Well I did just retire mate but I do generally play bigger than my size, so if you’re really struggling…

Longley: There you go… yeah I’m sure you could guard those European footers for us.  That’d be good,

Santamaria: [laughs] Luc, you spent many years involved with the Perth Wildcats at an ownership level, what is the secret to the Wildcats success do you think?

Longley: Well I wouldn’t know they were terrible when I had them.

Santamaria: [laughs] Is it [current owner] Jack Bendat?

Longley: Look, money’s obviously a big part of it; good coaching is a big part of it. We had a lot of coaching upheaval while I was there. I’m trying to make light of it but it was an unpleasant experience so I’m just trying to move on. Money and coaching. I believe that coaching is the most important part of any team, beyond the players or the superstar player, that they should be the most highly paid people on the roster. That’s because I’m just embarking on a coaching career, but it’s also true. I think Bevo was a fantastic coach and I think Gleeson did a good job but he did have a great load of talent and also they’ve got the arena there, so that’s generating income.  That’s just going to get better and better there I hope.

Santamaria: Luc, Steve Kerr came and visited you recently on his trip Down Under… are you excited for him as he embarks on his new adventure?

Longley: I am, I’m really excited for him and I like his team. I like lots of things about his team and I think Stevie will be great. I think that fact that he hasn’t done it before in some ways works for him. In the NBA environment it can work for you because you haven’t got a history. Unless you’ve won lots of championships it’s better to have no history than a checkered history in the NBA. He’s got lots of credibility; you know he’s the voice on the NBA games so some of the young guys can relate to that. Steve is just smart, he’s always been smart, he’s always been a student of the game and he’s good at managing people. I’m really excited for him and obviously he came out to beg me to be his assistant coach but I’ve declined for the moment.

Santamaria: Something to keep in mind as he goes along. Luc, we want to thank you for coming on Luc, it’s been a good old chat. We’ll have to get you back on at same stage.

Longley: No worries, you’ve got my number.

Santamaria: Good luck at the World Cup later this year mate.

Longley: Cheers, thanks.


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