One of Australia’s most successful sportsmen only ever received one compliment from basketball’s greatest-ever player, Michael Jordan.
Luc Longley, the 2.18m centre from Perth, Western Australia, who played in the all-conquering Chicago Bulls team during the mid-1990s, was ‘dominating’ against the Utah Jazz in 1998 when Jordan gave him some words of encouragement.
The American sporting legend was known as an ultra-fierce competitor and used tough love tactics to whip his teammates in shape and get them up for game day.
But on this occasion Longley had 12 points, four blocks and four rebounds and the Bulls were up by 16 against the Jazz at quarter-time, so Jordan decided to show his more sensitive side.
‘So I go up to Luke and say “that’s how you f**king play man, if you do that we dominate”,’ Jordan told ABC’s Australian Story.
But it would be the last compliment he would ever get from the basketball icon.
Australian Luc Longley won three NBA championships alongside Michael Jordan while playing for the Chicago Bulls between 1996 and 1998
‘At the end of the game Luke still had 12 points, four blocks and four rebounds,’ Jordan said.
‘We were winning by 16 and we lost by 15.
‘I looked at Luke and I said that’s the last time I’m ever going to give you a compliment.’
The two constantly clashed throughout their careers with the laid-back Aussie often the target of Jordan’s competitive rage.
Longley admitted that he never really took basketball too seriously as a youngster but made a drastic move after his parent’s divorce that would see his career flourish.
He took off from Perth and relocated to Canberra after securing a scholarship for basketball at the Australian Institute of Sport.
His live at home as a teen had become chaotic with his mother Sue Hansen, and architect dad Richard, struggling to come to terms with the end of their relationship.
‘I never took basketball too seriously but it provided me with a family when mine was broken down and I think that become my loving focus, that’s what I poured myself into,’ Longley said.
Longley (pictured, left) playing for the Chicago Bulls during game one of the 1998 NBA Finals
Luc Longley is introduced before a Chicago Bulls game against the Utah Jazz in 1998 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, when Jordan gave him the since-regretted compliment
The legendary Chicago Bulls team has recently been thrust back into the spotlight after the smash hit Netflix documentary series The Last Dance was released last year.
Longley admitted he felt ‘bummed’ to be left out of the doco which centres on the brilliant career of Michael Jordan and his effect on the Bulls and the sport.
Australian fans expecting an insight into Jordan’s relationship with Longley, a key member of the Bulls’ championship-winning teams of 1996, 1997 and 1998, were left sorely disappointed.
‘Sitting there on the couch and watching episode after episode where I wasn’t in it — yeah, I was bummed about that,’ Longley said in tonight’s Australian Story episode.
‘Why was I not in the doco? I don’t really know, to be honest,’ Longley said.
Other than some glimpses of Longley on court and in dressing rooms he was otherwise missing from the doco, while other team members were extensively interviewed.
‘I would like to have been in the doco so that Australian kids saw that there was an Australian in that team doing that thing.’
Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Luc Longley and Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls during a game against the Golden State Warriors in 1998
The Last Dance Producers previously explained it was too expensive to send a crew to Longley’s home on the south coast of Western Australia to interview him.
Despite his talent, as a teenager Longley said he was not that committed to the sport.
‘I wasn’t serious, I wasn’t down in the gym like all the other guys,’ Longley said.
‘People around at that stage said, “Oh, he’s not going to make it. He doesn’t want it badly enough”.’
Longley was the first Australian to play at the top level in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and held a place in a team considered one of the greatest of all time.
He’d graduated from the American college system where he described himself as a ‘soft Fremantle kid’.
After a ‘miserable’ three-year stint when he was drafted to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Longley tells the program he felt at home when was traded to the high-profile Bulls in 1994.
But Michael Jordan, who’d returned to the Bulls after an aborted retirement in 1995, targeted the big, red-headed Australian, as he tells the program.
‘I don’t think Luc had the mentality of what it took to win,’ Jordan said.
‘I felt the need to push him. You had to show him a little tough love, you know. That’s what I call it – tough love.’
Basketball’s greatest player, Michael Jordan (above) played 15 season in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, winning six championships
Longley confessed he struggled to deal with Jordan’s aggression and take-no-prisoners approach to winning.
‘I might not have been a killer like MJ was, but you don’t need 12 killers,’ Longley said.
The seven-foot-two giant said he was a ‘gentle, empathetic kid’ who had to ‘adopt some MJ’ in order to make it in the NBA.
While Longley wasn’t interviewed for The Last Dance, he said he now had an idea why he didn’t feature more heavily in the acclaimed production.
‘The self-deprecating Australian in me thinks it’s because I’m not that exciting,’ he said. ‘I was playing a huge role but it wasn’t one that was that sexy.
‘There were so many beautiful, bright, shiny stars out there to focus on, that, you know, it makes sense to me that that story wasn’t about me.’
Longley, now 52, said he was a ‘soft Fremantle kid’ when he started in the NBA, and struggled to deal with the win-at-all-costs attitude of a star like Michael Jordan
As seen in The Last Dance, Jordan’s legendary will-to-win often rubbed his team-mates the wrong way.
‘You never hear anyone in the show talk about what good company Jordan was or how much fun around the Chicago Bulls’ locker-room,’ Daily Mail Australia’s sports expert Mike Colman wrote.
‘Just how driven he was and how hard he rode his teammates in his pursuit of success.’
Today Longley, 52, is a special assistant to the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL and also helps out with Australia’s national team, the Boomers.
Away from basketball he lives with his wife, celebrity chef Anna Gare, on a property 400 kilometres south of Perth at Denmark. Both have two children from previous marriages.
The second par of Luc Longley: One Giant Leap screens on Australian Story, will air, Monday August 9 at 8pm AEST.
THE CAREER OF LUC LONGLEY
1986 – Perth Wildcats
1991–1994 – Minnesota Timberwolves
1994–1998 – Chicago Bulls
1998–2000 – Phoenix Suns
2000–2001 – New York Knicks
Olympic Games, 1988, 1992, 2000 – Australia Boomers
NBA champion – Chicago Bulls 1996–1998
2× Australian State League champion – 1989, 1990
Gaze Medal winner – 1989
Australian Basketball Hall of Fame – 2006
Sport Australia Hall of Fame – 2009