Discover more from The Pick and Roll
Luc Longley speaks on his basketball nirvana in new documentary series
Australian Story chronicled Luc Longley's journey wider life. This upcoming documentary retells The Last Dance, through Longley's eyes.
Luc Longley, finally comfortable with his place in the basketball ecosystem.
This was my initial takeaway after watching a new docuseries that provides an insight into the first Australian to leave his mark on the NBA. Titled Luc Longley: Foundations, the four-part series revisits Longley’s childhood in Western Australia, before offering a first hand account of life alongside Michael Jordan on the 1990s Chicago Bulls.
Foundations begins by explaining Longley’s origin story, and displays his Fremantle roots. Longley’s perceived weakness when entering the NBA was a lack of desire, a fact that is inseparable from the relaxed coastal lifestyle of the region. Artfully, the documentary show Longley cruising through downtown Fremantle, in the middle of a sun-soaked day, on his bicycle. It’s a crafty representation of the easy come, easy go, Western Australian lifestyle. I can only assume that locals would have been taken aback by the sight of a seven-foot man rolling through the cappuccino strip, although that sentiment is a perfect analogy for Longley’s public life over the past 40 years.
The Pick and Roll is an independent reader-supported publication. To receive new stories and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Longley was the accidental superstar. His identification by college scouts has been recounted everywhere over the journey – including here on this very publication. Happenstance is the pressing theme every time this story comes up. A chance sighting thanks to Andrew Vlahov, Longley’s teenage basketball companion, is how American basketball discovered Longley. It also led to Australia having their first blue chip basketball export, with Longley landing at the University of New Mexico before entering the 1991 NBA draft as a likely lottery selection.
Foundations accelerates through Longley’s early time in North America, with one theme being referenced throughout the documentary. That is, the fact Longley was the first NBA player to hail from Australia. The film opens with Longley saying as much, and closes on a similar note. In an effort to emulate The Last Dance (more on this shortly), the filmmakers hand Longley a device so that he can rewatch the moment Minnesota called his name in the 1991 NBA draft. The smile that beams from his face is unmissable. As too, is the candour from Longley. He opens up in a manner seldom seen, when recounting his moment of validation; his pride is clear and obvious. The below quote from television coverage of the 1991 NBA draft is aptly replayed in the film:
Nobody from Australia has ever really made it big or made it in the NBA and Luc Longley said that is one of his desires; to bring an Australian to the National Basketball Association.
With hindsight, this desire proved a raging success and Longley achieved more than his personal aims. He brought Australia to the National Basketball Association.
Basketball was the vehicle that changed Longley’s life, with Longley being the vehicle that changed Australian basketball. There is an undeniable feedback look in those two occurrences. Longley was the vessel through which Andrew Bogut could follow and subsequently lay foundations that would open the floodgates to Australians infiltrating the NBA.
An interesting question to pose, is how Longley would have resonated if he didn’t link up with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls? He was always the first —Chicago didn’t change that— but Longley’s profile stuck on the fringes while playing in New Mexico and Minnesota. That all changed in February 1994 when the Bulls acquired his playing rights. When Michael Jordan returned in March 1995, Longley was suddenly a leading player on the NBA’s version of The Beatles.
Simply orbiting Jordan and Phil Jackson in those days was enough to be famous, but a legitimate talent with a foreign voice and a unique journey into the gluttonous NBA lifestyle made Longley famous in all caps. Longley was globally FAMOUS. Which is why, Longley’s disappearance from the public consciousness is equal parts baffling yet predictable.
The bright lights which surrounded the 1990s Chicago Bulls amplified everyone in its orbit. For reasons ranging from wonderful to concerning, the likes of Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, Dennis Rodman and Jerry Krause all occupy large swathes of the basketball zeitgeist even to this day. Longley’s journey post-Chicago has been more of an enigma. His lack of a basketball presence in retirement gave the impression of someone who was running away from the late career injuries across stints in Phoenix and New York.
Longley speaks to this as the documentary closes. He speaks to a recency bias which emphasised late career struggles over what he achieved beforehand. Longley is more understandable than ever, as these words come out. We as humans are always the worst orators of our own story and Longley, who is equipped with those unmistakable Australian selfless ideas, is guilty like the rest of us in downplaying his accomplishments.
The documentary ends with Longley explaining how he has been too successful at keeping a low profile. This monologue is received as an inner dialogue in which Longley is using the audience to reinforce his acceptance of the transformative impact his life provided. He speaks like a man who has now found himself in basketball, now that he is on the other side of being a basketballer. In that way, Longley is relatable to many Western Australians who grabble with the duality of growing up around idyllic coastlines, and the understanding that exploring the world requires a massive journey - one that is as literal as much as is figurative.
The Last Dance reintroduced Jordan’s Bulls to the audience at mass. It arrived when the world was shut down because of COVID-19 and again accelerated the public profiles of main actors, with one obvious exception; Longley was the notable omission from The Last Dance. After his exclusion from the Netflix documentary, Australian Story released with a feature on Longley’s journey. That was a forum where Longley chronicled his wider life. Foundations carries a more specific focus: this is The Last Dance, as told through Longley’s eyes.
A second watching of Foundations brings into focus that Longley was willing to paint his picture of the 1990s Chicago Bulls. With the Bulls’ story having been retold in detail over recent years, Longley’s anecdotes from the period align with what The Last Dance taught us. Winning that first NBA championship is widely accepted as a special feeling that offers validation. Jordan driving the group forward with unrelenting expectations are evidence of his greatness. It is Longley’s recollection of coming to Chicago that stands out.
Longley describes arriving in Chicago as landing in his basketball nirvana. He found the perfect incubator for his athletic talents alongside the greatest team modern NBA basketball has seen. This lucky break elevated Longley from being atop the Australian sporting landscape to the very top of global basketball, and that is where Longley remains.
In the aftermath of Longley’s third NBA championship in 1998, he ended his speech at the celebratory parade with six words that resonate deeper as time goes on: It’s great to be on top.
Longley remains atop the Australian basketball pecking order. Telling the story of Andrew Bogut or Patty Mills is devoid of context if Longley’s journey isn’t acknowledged. Foundations is Longley’s ode to the high point of his professional career. He will always be the starting center on the second three-peat Bulls. He will always be the first Australian to resonate across the NBA. And judging by this latest documentary, Longley always be the young man from Western Australia willing to do things his way. He looks more comfortable than ever in doing so.
The Pick and Roll was provided with a copy of the documentary for this review.
Luc Longley: Foundations is a four-episode documentary series which revisits Longley’s childhood in Western Australia and his journey to the NBA, where he played a significant role for the six-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls. On the 25th anniversary of the Bulls’ second three-peat, the NBA celebrates Luc’s lasting impact on the sport through this documentary, which will premiere its first episode on Wednesday, Aug. 2 ACT through NBA.com and the NBA App.