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Sport The Last Dance: Luc Longley - The man in the middle during the Chicago Bulls' 1997/98 season

08:52  02 august  2021
08:52  02 august  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Headlined by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the Chicago Bulls were the juggernaut of sports in the 1990s.

Among the star-studded team, Australian big man Luc Longley was holding it down in the middle, starting 58 games at center during the 1997/98 regular season and 15 of their 20 playoff games, featured in The Last Dance documentary, chronicling their championship run that season.

MORE: How MJ & the Bulls denied Hall of Famers a chance at championship glory | State of the NBA heading into the 1997-98 season

After being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the no.7 pick in the 1991 NBA Draft, Longley was traded to the Bulls during the 1993/94 season following their first three-peat, as Jordan retired from the NBA to try his hand at baseball.

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After mainly being used as a backup big, Longley became the team's full-time starter in the 1995/96 season — Jordan's first full season back in the league, but it took time to find their footing.

“I’d have to say after he came back, I really didn’t like the guy,” Longley wrote in his 1996 book Running With the Bulls. “I found him difficult to be around and he and I obviously didn’t see eye-to-eye. We were at each other’s throats in practice and … that was a case of frustration from both of us, mostly from him.”

“Perhaps if I was more of a Bulls fan and had read up on him I would have realised what he was, what he is.”

Scottie Pippen, Luc Longley, Dennis Rodman standing on a basketball court: #Longley © Provided by Sporting News #Longley

Things quickly changed as the 7'2" giant proved to be a critical piece in the Bulls' success, priding himself on doing the dirty work — grabbing rebounds, playing hard-nosed defence, protecting the rim and setting screens, the latter which Jordan missed the most after Longley was sidelined with a shoulder injury early in the 1996 season.

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“That was when Michael’s and my relationship went to the next level,” Longley told The Ringer in 2018. “He realised, at that stage, how good my screens were — how useful I was.”

MORE: Appreciating the defensive dominance of Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen

Just a few weeks prior, Longley put on a show in a win over the Detroit Pistons, scoring 16 points, all coming in a dizzying first-quarter performance.

Longley went on to win three championships with the Bulls and was the team's fourth-leading scorer during their record-setting 72-10 season in 1996, averaging 9.1 points per game and 5.1 rebounds.

Throughout The Last Dance season, Longley averaged a career-high 11.4 points per game, adding 5.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists.

After the Bulls broke up in 1998, Longley was traded to the Phoneix Suns where he played two seasons, before injuries limited him to just 25 games in his final NBA season for the New York Knicks in 200/01.

Luc Longley's documentary One Giant Leap is set to air Monday August 2 on ABCTV, with Part 2 the following Monday, August 9.

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