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When he was in the midst of winning championships with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Australian great Luc Longley couldn’t really appreciate the impact his achievements were having back home.
That is partly why he has embraced the “midlife renaissance” that has come from being left out of The Last Dance documentary series, which has renewed interest in the era here and globally since Netflix released it during the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020. It’s now almost 25 years since Longley won his third straight championship with Jordan and the Bulls in 1998.
Australian great Luc Longley in Melbourne on Saturday.Credit: Jason South
The local backlash from his omission, one Jordan later said he regretted, led to the ABC doing a two-part Australian Story documentary on Longley’s career and the life he has created after basketball, which attracted over four million views on YouTube alone.
Longley was long hesitant to speak at length about his NBA years, but he now takes pride in the ongoing interest, including the re-issuing of his “Longley 13” Bulls jerseys in the new Luc Longley’s Aussie Legends clothing collection from Mitchell and Ness.
“This didn’t happen – they were all Jordan, [Scott] Pippen and [Denis] Rodman [jerseys]- there were Longley jerseys but never a display or a shop window like this,” Longley said at the Melbourne NBA Store launch on Saturday.
“I wish my kids could see this.
Luc Longley and Michael Jordan pictured in 1997.Credit: Reuters
“When we were in the middle of it, it was just part of the landscape of being a Bull. I didn’t take it for granted, but I didn’t feel the same level of pride in it as I do now for whatever reason.
“Thank you for leaving me out of the Netflix doco because this wouldn’t have happened if they had put me in it.
‘Thank you for leaving me out of the Netflix doco because this wouldn’t have happened if they had put me in it.’
“There was all the discussion around it, then the Australian Story created interest and suddenly, we have Longley jerseys – it’s wild how the world turns isn’t it?”
While his 218-centimetre frame always catches the eye, Longley is still being stopped by fans for pictures and questions.
“So much more – my pedestrian experience is completely different as I will go to get my bags off the carousel or whatever and it’s selfies with people because they have seen me with my beard and the extra kilos,” Longley said with a laugh.
“I don’t know what you call it. A midlife renaissance? It’s just cool that era and my contribution is being remembered.”
Boomers could be great for Simmons
Longley hopes a return to the Boomers could rejuvenate Ben Simmons’ career but only if the NBA All-Star is fit and able to rejoin the team.
Longley, who worked extensively with the national team during previous coach Andrej Lemanis’ tenure, believes joining up with the Boomers would benefit Simmons, who has endured a torturous two years of injuries, trades and turmoil including this past season with the Brooklyn Nets in which he played 42 out of 82 games.
Ben Simmons has been struck down by injury.Credit: AP
Simmons is currently rehabilitating from a back injury and Boomers coach Brian Goorjian has left a spot at the team’s August training camp open should he feel fit and motivated to play.
Goorjian told media recently he was confident Simmons will play if his body allows him to although Boomers fans will be wary as Simmons hasn’t played for Australia since he was left out of the team for the 2014 FIBA World Cup as a teenager.
“What I hope is that he decides that he wants it and needs it and that he doesn’t distract everybody on the way in while he makes up his mind,” Longley said.
“I feel like he needs to get in there and be part of it – that would be great for everyone – but if he’s not going to be playing, then just say that and don’t be a distraction.”
Longley empathised with the criticism Simmons has faced and believes he could make an impact for the Boomers.
“Can he help? Absolutely,” Longley said.
“I think it would great for him to play in that environment, a different environment and shake it up for him.
“But everyone has their own shit going on, and I’m sure Ben has a lot of shit going on. I just want what is best for Ben.”
The Boomers will face plenty of competition for medals at the World Cup and, should they qualify, at the 2024 Paris Olympics but Longley thinks the team is in a sweet spot with experienced heads like Patty Mills and Joe Ingles alongside young NBA stars like Josh Giddey and Josh Green.
Goorjian has already made the tough call to leave veteran centre Aron Baynes out of the squad and will almost surely have to cut players with NBA experience to reach his 12-man roster.
“I feel Goorj’s pain but do I have sympathy for him? No,” Longley said.
“He’s done a great job and has great pieces to work with in that core of older guys with experience and younger guys who are hungry. There is a nice balance right now.
“I think they are going to go great.”
Longley still reflects on the difficulty of cutting players even though he is several years removed from his assistant coaching role.
“Telling anyone they haven’t made the Olympic team is one of the most difficult things I’ve done in sport,” Longley said.
“I will never forget telling Adam Gibson he didn’t make an Olympic team he was expecting to make. It broke my heart and I actually told him that recently.”
Australians in demand
Longley takes pride in Australian players making their own place in the NBA, from Giddey’s rise to Sydney Kings star Xavier Cooks making his debut late in the season with Washington.
“When I was playing I managed to find a nice role and that was pioneering and great, but these guys are genuine superstars,” Longley said.
“Bogues [Andrew Bogut] and Ben have done that, but I feel like there is this wave where all those players are coming in and being impactful.
“I know Cooks is in the NBA because he is level, mature and plays the right way, because of that, they have overlooked any weaknesses he might have. It’s supply and demand but being a smart, level basketball player is becoming a commodity in the NBA.
“People are recognising Australian basketballers and what they embody, and they want them around.“
‘Improbable superstar’: Jokic impresses Longley
As he watches the NBA Finals, Longley admires the achievements of Denver centre Nikola Jokic who uses his skills and smarts to make up for not having the athleticism of others.
Longley referenced the 160-centimetre, 1990s NBA guard Muggsy Bogues to explain his appreciation of Jokic, who has set a new record for triple-doubles in an NBA playoffs, with eight so far, as his Nuggets are up 1-0 in their best of seven NBA Finals series against Miami Heat.
“I’m calling him the seven-footers’ Muggsy Bogues,” Longley said.
“Remember how Muggsy made basketball accessible for all the guys under six-foot? I feel like he has made basketball accessible for all the guys over seven-foot who aren’t fast, can’t jump and don’t look the part.
“He’s such an improbable superstar and I love the way he goes about it. Everyone loves him at the moment, but he’s not loving himself that much. He’s keeping an even kneel, which I also appreciate.“
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