The Bull in the Center of the Championships, Luc Longley
Being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves doesn’t usually mean a career full of NBA championships. Luc Longley never had success, or even many nationally broadcast games, for Minnesota or his later teams Phoenix and New York. In the middle of his career he found himself in Chicago, with Jordan and the Bulls, and he helped them win three times by filling the paint while others filled up the box score.
Luc Longley was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1969. That was before the city became known for producing top overall draft choices, with Andrew Bogut, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons. Longley grew up in Perth, Australia and he kept growing in the up direction, seven-foot-two in height. He would end up at the University of New Mexico and after a senior season of 19 points and 9 rebounds he headed to the NBA.
Minnesota drafted him with pick 7 in the 1991 NBA Draft. It wasn’t a good fit, with pick 6 the year before they had drafted giant center Felton Spencer, and with pick 3 in 1992 they selected forward/center Christian Laettner. Longley played two and a half seasons for Minnesota, he started 57 of the 170 games he played and averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds. He was destined to be an obscure NBA player, until February 23, 1994 when he was traded to Chicago in a deal for Stacey King.
Longley joined a Chicago team without Jordan, but also one with a lot more talent than he had previously played with. The Bulls were still a contender with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc and Steve Kerr. Longley responded with much better percentages than he had before, 48% from the field and 76% on free throws, and a career-high in scoring of 7.6 points a game. The next year he split center minutes with Will Perdue, and during season 1994-95 Michael Jordan returned to basketball from baseball and Longley found himself in the biggest spotlight the NBA had then. It got bigger the next year, Will Perdue was traded for power forward Dennis Rodman and Longley became the full-time starter for basketball’s best team.
The Bulls won three championships in a row, seasons 1996, 1997 and 1998, and Longley was the starter at center for Chicago in nearly every playoff game during that run. He helped the Bulls by filling the paint, and putting a big body on centers like Patrick Ewing, negating their usual effectiveness. As a Bull he averaged 8.9 points a game, 5.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Like Bill Cartwright earlier in the decade for the Bulls, he played an important part in Jordan’s championships even if the statistics didn’t always show it. When Jordan retired again and the Bulls were dismantled, Longley was traded to Phoenix and with the pick the Bulls got in the deal they selected Ron Artest. Not long after that Longley was sent to the Knicks, in the blockbuster deal that moved Patrick Ewing to Seattle, and after only 25 games as a Knick he retired due to injury. The Bulls didn’t retire his number, which was 13, but he is remembered as a player who was important to number 23 getting his last three titles.