The Last Dance: How Luc Longley remembers his time with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls
Following a stellar collegiate career at the University of New Mexico, Luc Longley was about to enter uncharted territory.
Update: It was previously stated that Longley was the first Australian drafted into the NBA, this is inaccurate. As listed in our Aussies in the NBA draft article, Carl Rodwell holds that honour, being drafted by Atlanta in 1969. Thanks to Bob Elphinston for the reminder.
The Perth native made his way into the NBA, after Minnesota drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 1991. The Timberwolves couldn’t bring out the best in Longley however, and he was ultimately traded to the Chicago Bulls in February of 1994. A little over a year later, Michael Jordan emphatically returned to the NBA, issuing a two word fax: “I’m Back“.
Jordan’s return couldn’t save the Bulls in the 1995 playoffs, as a Shaquille O’Neal-led Orlando Magic side proved too strong. However, after acquiring Dennis Rodman prior to the 1995/96 season, the team was set for a three-peat run.
Just a few days after Rodman joined the Bulls, Luc Longley signed a new contract – worth $US8.1 million over three years. This deal would take him through to the end of the 1997/98 season, which proved to be Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls.
“Phil [Jackson] had a very different command of a group of young men’s minds to anything I’d ever experienced before,” Longley said to ESPN in 2017. “I immediately felt accepted, and it pumped up my tires. It got me feeling confident, and when you’re confident you play better, and when you play better you feel [more] confident.”
Longley also shared how the transition from not having Jordan on the team earlier in the season, and his return was a game changer in itself.
“There was teething problems while MJ worked himself back in the game and we figured out how to help him, and figured out how to play with him,” said Longley. “Suddenly you’ve got the best player [back] and that has an exponential effect on everyone else. It makes everyone better.”
In the last year of his Bulls contract, Longley found career-best form. He averaged 11.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 29.4 minutes per game – all career highs. He would later celebrate a third consecutive title, starting all six games in Chicago’s NBA finals victory over the Utah Jazz. It wasn’t a cake walk by any measure, however.
“It took its toll on MJ, it took a toll on everybody,’ Longley shared. “The compounding year-on-year, deep in the playoffs, playing a hundred plus games a year, that’s the one. It’s easy to carry tendonitis through an off-season when you’ve only got two months of an off-season. It’s hard to get your body right.”
Jordan was the Finals MVP and the star of the show, but Scottie Pippen’s sacrifice didn’t go unnoticed. Pippen had only the sixth-highest salary on the team, one spot below Longley. Michael Jordan commanded a US $33 million salary, which used up more than half of the Bulls’ cap space. Longley was the fifth-highest earner at US $3.2 million, with Pippen taking home a comparable US $2.8 million. Pippen left his ego at the door, but his Bulls tenure wasn’t tension-free. He initially requested a trade in early 1995, before Jordan’s return presumably quashed that thought. Pippen was then very nearly traded for Tracy McGrady on draft night in 1997, before Jordan stepped in. Without the Robin to Jordan’s Batman, we might not be watching a documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in their final season, aptly titled “The Last Dance”.
With three championships under his belt and a career year behind him, Luc Longley was about to get paid. The big man earned a five-year, US $30 million contract as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Bulls, which sent him to the Phoenix Suns. Longley’s last few seasons were unfortunately marred by various injuries, and he eventually retired in 2001.
The 7’2 centre will go down in history as a trail blazer for Australian basketball, and it will be a long time before another Aussie matches his three championship rings.
You can watch The Last Dance in Australia via Netflix. The first two of the ten episode series premieres on 20 April 2020, Monday after 5:00pm, with a further two episodes to be released every following week.
Thank you for loving Aussie hoops! From Kein, Damian and #TeamPnR