Longley recalls Bulls days as hoops 'heaven'
All these years later, Luc Longley still gets goosebumps when he talks about his time with the Chicago Bulls.
The Australian center reminicsed about his NBA days recently and admitted that the February 1994 trade that resulted in his being dealt from Minnesota to Chicago in exchange for Stacy King was like falling into "basketball heaven."
"I just got [goosebumps] then when we started talking about [the Bulls]," he said after a breakfast celebrating the 2011 NBA Asia Pacific Team Camp at Dandenong Stadium last month. "[The memories] flood back. The fact that you say goosebumps is funny because that is exactly what happens. You get a rush of all that energy from the crowd and the stadium and the games. For me, the memories are still pretty fresh. I know it's a long time ago, but I value them a lot. It's all fresh for me."
So fresh that Longley, who returned to a Bulls game for the first time about 18 months ago, plans to visit the United Center again later this year -- if the lockout ends.
"I'm going back there this year," he said. "Took my wife to a Bulls game and she loved it. I'm going to bring the kids back to a Bulls game this year. Just that town; that town hasn't forgotten. They still treated me really well. I still haven't bought a beer in Chicago, going on 20 years now."
The big redhead seems content with where he's at in life and what he's been doing since he retired.
"Got four teenagers, so that's a job in itself," he said. "But they're all getting older now, so they're getting ready to leave the house. I've been living in Perth, haven't been very involved in basketball until recently. When I first left the NBA, I owned a pro team in Perth and I did that for about five years, but since then I really haven't had much to do with basketball."
That has changed. Not only was Longley present all week as part of the camp alongside former Bulls Horace Grant and Ron Harper, he's also started doing some work with the Australian National team, along with a few other ventures close to his heart.
"I've been doing a lot of marine conservation work, that's sort of my passion, I suppose," he said. "I've had a charter boat; we've done surf and dive charters up the coast west coast of Australia and into New Guinea, so that was good. That's over now and I'm just starting to move back into basketball. This NBA thing came up and actually I've been doing a little bit of coaching with our national team and working with the bigs."
Speaking of the National team, Longley is hopeful that locked out NBA players consider playing in Australia in the NBL, but he cautions that they better be mentally ready to accept the challenge of bringing it every night.
"It's always good for the game to get something different," he said of possibly bringing some NBA veterans down under, "The trouble is, if you bring an old NBA guy down here, he better be ready to play because it's a tough league and I think he needs to really dominate so the NBA brand stays [high]. Because right now, everyone down here thinks, and it's true, is a league in the sky somewhere. And [Andrew] Bogut will prove that right if he comes back because he'll tear it up. But someone that's older and not really on top of their game might struggle to tear up this league because it's a tough defensive league."
The power of Jordan: While there's no question the game continues to grow every year in Australia, there's little doubt that the explosion of popularity for the NBA happened during the 90s, thanks, in large part, to the greatest Bull of them all, Michael Jordan.
"Back then, it seems not long ago, but there wasn't as much digital media," Longley said. "There wasn't as much access. People had to stay up [until] three o'clock in the morning to see the games. It wasn't saturating the television like it was in America, but his brand is still just as strong. His legend's trickled down, especially now that they have access to all that. Kids are still going to watch their Michael Jordan videos on YouTube. It's alive and well, his brand down here."
Grant isn't surprised that Jordan's legacy, and the popularity of the Bulls in general, seems to have withstood the test of time so far away from home.
"When you play with, you can say the best player [who] ever played the game of basketball, and that's no disrespect to the guys before him and maybe some of the guys [that] are here now," Grant said. "Whenever you win championships like that, you're going to go down as one of the best teams in the history of basketball. When you say Michael Jordan, people know. And the rest of us really came along for that ride."
The last word: So what is Harper up to these days?
"I'm a stay home dad," Harper said with a laugh. "I get 'em up, get 'em fed and get 'em to school. Get 'em home and take them to play basketball. Take 'em to their stuff, just doing that and just enjoying it."