The Covid-19 pandemic brought about struggle and sadness across the globe, becoming the defining moment of 2020 and probably the whole decade. After the pandemic, the second biggest phenomenon of the year was the release of ESPN’s The Last Dance, a ten-part documentary series that took us behind the curtain of the greatest dynasty in NBA history, the Chicago Bulls, led by the GOAT Michael Jordan. The series focused on a few prominent characters in the Bulls’ journey, naturally leaving out some juicy stories in the interest of right-sizing the show for consumption by the majority of its perceived audience.
The pandemic is still in our midst in 2021, so in an attempt to give us more Chicago Bulls content, Luc Longley presents to us “The Australian Story,” which speaks about his journey with Chicago and the stories that did not make it to the cut of The Last Dance. The series should give us our yearly pandemic escape of Bulls content, this time through the lens of one of the team’s unsung heroes. In episode two, Luc and some of the former Bulls detail why Longley was one of their most important players during their second championship run.
“There is an intimidation factor that goes into basketball, and Luc was a force that held his own. He could take a blow and just keep going, keep playing. Steady, reliable.”Phil Jackson, The Australian Story
Longley played in the 90s, a period in basketball history very different from today’s NBA. Today we see very little action from the post. In contrast, back in the day, you had these huge and strong centers initiating the offense, inflicting physical and mental pain onto opposing defenders. A big man in the year 2021 is meant to guard the perimeter while being athletic enough to recover and block shots at the rim – in the 90s, it was all about withstanding the force that would come from the pursuits of giants like Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal. Most of the Bulls’ rivals played through their big men, so it was important for the team to have someone to slow them down. Of course, they had Rodman in the latter years, but despite his toughness, younger seven-footers like Shaq were just too much to handle for a guy of Rodman’s size.
“Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most dominant big men in our game. So it was really important for us to have some guys on the team that could meet Shaq’s intensity.”Scottie Pippen, The Australian Story
Luc did just that while providing some stability on offense with his positioning and passing ability. Always known to be a bit of a bruiser, his playmaking skills were often overlooked. That being said, what he brought to the defensive end defined his career in the NBA. Longley played his role to perfection and sacrificed his body for the good of the team. Only Luc and his former teammates know what he had to go through to keep his spot on the court.
“I loved wrestling with Shaq. I got lots of cracked ribs and busted teeth as a result, but I loved it. Phil, Scottie and MJ, they all know that.” – Luc Longley, The Australian Story.Luc Longley, The Australian Story
Shaq was truly a dominant force, and no one in the history of the game could have intimidated him or stopped him. Luc took on what would be an impossible task to others, which is a sign of his commitment to the team and his will to win. Many talk about how Michael Jordan elevated his teammates to a new level of toughness and preparation, but it wouldn’t be possible if they did not already have it in them.
Luc exhibited the same toughness of Australian sporting culture that we see in today’s Aussie players in the NBA. Apart from Ben Simmons, none of the Aussies in the league are stars, but each has an excellent reputation. In a league considered to be getting “softer” with each year that passes and every rule change advantageous for its superstars, the Aussie players provide that toughness that other types of basketball fans love to see.
They get after it on defense, play a team-first style of basketball, and just love to get their hands dirty. While most of that is attributed to the overall increase in global talent due to the game’s worldwide development, for Aussies, it could be that the one who paved the way for them is a seven-footer from Perth who had a career out of getting his teeth knocked in and throwing beautiful bounce passes to game’s greatest.