Australian basketball great Luc Longley has been in the country for more than a week now and is enjoying his short tour here despite a very tight schedule. The 10-year NBA legend is in town for various NBA-related events including the launching of its local website, basketball clinics, and even an outreach project in Cagayan de Oro City.
"It's my first time here but I've seen a lot of it. I've traveled around, met a lot of people. I've really enjoyed the people being warm. They always seem to be smiling. It's a lovely place," said Longley, during an exclusive interview with Yahoo! Sports.
"I've been walking around (Manila) a little bit. I like walking and finding my way in back streets and interesting places where there are markets. The jeepneys are hilarious. I like the jeepneys. I'll be riding one before I leave, I guarantee."
Longley was part of the Bulls' three-year dominance of the NBA, winning titles from 1996 to 1998 along with Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc and Dennis Rodman, and with Phil Jackson as coach. He was also the first Australian to play in the NBA.
Drafted 7th over-all by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1991 after playing for the University of New Mexico, Longley revealed that he was both excited and intimidated during his first season in the NBA. "I didn't know what to expect. But it was great. Winning games is great. When you have guys like Michael Jordan as teammates, you tend to win more basketball games. I learned a lot too. I learned a lot about the game and about being professional. And about how to win," added Longley, who admits that Jordan is the greatest player he ever saw or played with or played against. He also described Rodman as a "fantastic teammate but with a strange personal life," but very hard-working and never missed practice.
Longley was often compared to NBA great Bill Walton. But the 7'2" Basketball Australia's Hall of Fame inductee considered the comparison as generous. "I was never anything like as good as Bill Walton. I think the red hair and the interest in passing made sense but Bill was a genuine superstar, and I was an effective role player," Longley humbly stated.
A bad left ankle forced Longley to retire in 2001 where he last played for the New York Knicks. He averaged 7.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1 block in 567 regular season games.
Longley also had stints with the Australian National Team and even played in the 1988 Seoul Olympics when he was just 19 years old. Australia finished at 4th spot that year, the highest it has ever reached in the Olympics. "The Olympics was great. Unfortunately, we could never seem to get a medal. Playing for your country is totally different. It makes you very proud. I was also part of the new generation of Australian players and I think we raised the bar a bit," said Longley, who still works with the National Team as big man skills coach. He also used to partly own the Perth Wildcats in the Australian National Basketball League.
Today, Longley is involved in various businesses and projects in Australia aside from being a strong advocate for marine conservation. He has successfully lobbied for more marine parks and sanctuaries in his country. Since his celebrity chef wife Anna Gare travels a lot, Longley spends a big part of his day attending to their four kids. One of them is 15-year old Lily Samantha, who appears to be following his dad's footsteps in playing hoops. "She's very good and fast, and already stands 6'5". She has been to a couple of national camps over at the Australian Institute of Sports. But she needs to finish high school first," said Longley of his daughter from his first marriage.
Longley keeps himself fit by regularly working out early in the morning. He also enjoys swimming and surfing before spending most of the afternoon in business meetings. He also finds time to walk his pet dogs at night.
Former NBA champion Luc Longley visits the PhilippinesLuc Longley talks about his NBA career and what he learned from Michael Jordan. First of a two-part interview by Jude Roque. Video produced by Yahoo! Southeast Asia and Filquest Media Concepts Inc.
Longley's father Richard was also an Olympian for basketball while his mother Sue Hansen-Smith was an equestrian. He credits his first coach Ed Rodgers as the one who influenced him to be a basketball player. He also considers Phil Jackson as a role model.
After spending a lot of time with kids in the Alaska-Jr. NBA basketball camps here, Longley is convinced a Filipino can make it to the NBA someday. "It's absolutely possible. The game is being played so broadly here. So many kids are getting good coaching and basketball education that it seems to me inevitable for a Filipino to play in the NBA at some stage," he said. He was also mostly impressed with the young campers' quickness and skills.
Longley has spent several days working with the NBA with its projects here but got a two-day break, which he spent in Cebu's diving sites.
"I would love to come back here."