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Ball Don't Lie

An important basketball reminder: Luc Longley's stories are still the best

Ben Rohrbach
Ball Don't Lie
If Luc Longley looks like an international man of mystery, it's because he is. (Getty Images)
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If Luc Longley looks like an international man of mystery, it's because he is. (Getty Images)

Luc Longley's stories are better than yours.

After more than a decade away from the game, Crocodile Longley is back in the basketball spotlight as an assistant coach for an Australian national team hoping to make noise at the FIBA World Cup. Aussie publication "Inside Sport" caught up with Longley, and he reminded us all why his stories are the best.

For those unfamiliar with Longley, the 7-foot-2 center was discovered by New Mexico coach Gary Colson in Perth, Australia, averaged 13.4 points and 7.0 rebounds for the Lobos and was drafted No. 7 overall by the Timberwolves in 1991. After a few unsuccessful seasons in Minnesota, Longley was traded to the Bulls, for whom he served as the starting center during the second of Michael Jordan's three-peats.

The legend of Longley, though, was born in Chicago, where he missed two months of the 1996-97 NBA season for separating his shoulder while bodysurfing on a road trip with Bulls teammate Jud Buechler off Hermosa Beach, Calif. When he arrived in a sling, Longley told the Los Angeles Times he'd injured it fighting a shark — "He was bigger than me — and better looking" — before conceding the truth.

After another trade sent him to Phoenix for a trio of players and a first-round pick that later became Ron Artest, the legend of Longley continued. In April 2000, he played through a pair of scorpion stings — one to his foot and the other his buttocks — suffered while sitting on the floor of his Arizona home sorting his CDs. As he told the Tucson Citizen, "I could just see the injury report: Ass bite."

So, when a career-ending ankle injury sent Longley packing back to Australia 13 years ago, the world was robbed of a great basketball storyteller — save for the time he purchased the rights to name a newly discovered shrimp species after his teenage daughter Clare Hanna on eBay in 2009. See what I mean?

Fear not, for Big Red has returned in midseason form as a 45-year-old assistant on the same national team he led at age 19 to its highest ever standing, a fourth-place finish at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

On a serious note, as relayed to "Inside Sport," Longley learned his basketball career was over as a member of the Knicks while living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, which is a pretty crazy story in itself.

"We just decided to head for Australia. At that stage there were no commercial flights, so we boarded a friend’s jet and put the parrot and the dog in that. We stopped at Chicago to drop the parrot off with my mother, dropped the dog off with a restaurant partner of mine who liked the dog, then we hung out in LA for a couple of days and organised a Qantas flight home. We landed back in Australia around September 15th or 16th."

Outside of a one-day trip back to New York City to undergo an X-ray on his ankle, Longley didn't return to the U.S. for more than a decade. In between, the legend of Longley has grown down under.

"Um, about five years ago my house burnt down; that was pretty freaky. I had separated with the mother of my daughters by that stage. My girlfriend had only just moved in. The lot went. She literally had nothing and I had nothing, so we started again. We ended up marrying. She’s a high-school buddy — was in a band called the Jam Tarts, who were very popular when we were young. I used to go watch her play. Anna (cooking TV personality Anna Gare) and I ended up with a “Brady Bunch” — two kids of mine and two of hers. Now they’re all off at university, so we’re going to pack up the camper and head down south."

This story is wild for many reasons, the least of which is the fact he married a woman who once fronted an all-girl band named the Jam Tarts and now makes a mean vegemite sandwich. Truth is, Longley is selling himself short here, since he reportedly saved his girlfriend, kids and a couple friends from the fire that claimed much of his Bulls memorabilia, except for his three championship rings.

Longley also touched on his recent experience with Australian basketball — admitting the Boomers still don't know if Dante Exum will participate in the World Cup; respectively dubbing future stars Ben Simmons and Thon Maker as potentially better than this past June's No. 5 overall pick and "in the Kevin Garnett mold"; and describing his native country's approach to basketball as "blood-thirsty." And this bit about returning to the game as a coach is fun in an Aussie accent: "I’m glad that I got caught up in it because I think it’s something that’s good for the game, having the older guys around with the younger guys and having that cross-pollination of knowledge and youth; you can get a bit of gold out of that."

Then, there's Longley's wonderful description of the evolution of basketball since his retirement.

"Probably the glaring difference is the lack of “monsters”; it’s not such a scary movie anymore. A lot of the monsters are smaller and more agile. When I say monsters, I mean the big guys. I was effectively a monster, but a monster with small teeth. ... There were plenty with big teeth — the Ewings, the Shaqs. There’s just not a lot of those around anymore. They try to say that Dwight Howard is the current version of the old-style monster, but I’m not buying that. A lack of monsters means the floor is more spread; there’s less interior defense. The game seems to have sped up and got more athletic as a result. Some of the 'bigs' are really becoming what we call 'stretch-bigs' — they can stretch the floor and hit threes and that sort’ve thing. We have a couple on our national team — David Anderson is one of the early prototypical stretch-bigs in Australian basketball. That’s how he got a job in the NBA — the game started moving that way. Chris Anstey was definitely a stretch-big. Me on the other hand? Not a stretch-big. Maybe it’s time for me to coin the opposite of stretch-big: big hairy monsters."

And of course no Q&A session with Longley would be complete without a fantastic Jordan story. 

"We were playing Detroit and I came out on fire in the first half. I think I had 17-18 points, half-a-dozen rebounds, a couple of blocks — playing like an All-Star. For the first time ever, because Michael was very cautious with his praise, he came into the locker room high-fiving me, slapping me, hugging me, saying, 'Man, you play like that, we’re going to win the world championship. That’s awesome! You’re an All-Star. Why don’t you play like that every day? I knew you had it in ya.' Anyway, so we went out for the second half ... and I finished the game with exactly the same stat line as I had at half-time. I had a terrible second half. We came in after the game — we’d won. When everybody else was happy to be winning, Michael was furious. He said, “Luc, I am never, ever going to say a nice thing about you again.” It demonstrated how Michael thought that because he said something good … Like, it had nothing to do with Michael, really. It was me playing the game. I just drew a couple of fouls and didn’t play as well and didn’t get my opportunities. He was true to his word; never said anything nice again."

As always, Luc Longley's stories are better than yours.

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