MANILA, Philippines – If there is one NBA legend who’s surprised that no pure Filipino has yet to set foot in the Big League, that has to be Luc Longley.
“I don’t know. I am so surprised because there’s so much love (for the game),” Longley told Rappler in an interview at a Makati hotel Wednesday, May 2.
The seven-foot-two giant is in town for the Jr. NBA program and has been in the country for almost a week, seeing the Filipinos’ wild craze for basketball and wondering why no Juan from the archipelago has played in the world’s most popular hoops fest.
“I think with their size, Filipinos are strong, quick, agile and athletic,” Longley added.
The Australian, who was part of the Chicago Bulls’ title-winning streak in the 1990s, added that the key to break the spell might be exposure.
“Maybe Filipinos just lack exposure to elite competition,” Longley said. “You need to play where scouts will see you play.”
And with the advent of technology, Longley noted that it could not be long before a Filipino gets recruited to play for a Division I program and eventually get drafted into the NBA.
“It’s actually better now,” he shared. “The world is getting smaller and it’s easier to get noticed.”
Talk N’ Text’s Japeth Aguilar once played for the Division I school Western Kentucky University for a couple of years before coming back to the country to suit up for the national team and then the PBA. He never quite made the leap he was expected to, thereby eliminating his remote chances of being drafted into the NBA.
First from down under
Longley sure knows what he’s talking about, being the first Australian to ever don an NBA uniform.
And he did it even without playing organized basketball until he was 13 years old.
“I really wanted to be a rugby player,” Longley said.
However, his frame “discouraged” him from doing so as being long and skinny did not compliment a highly-physical sport like rugby.
It also helped that Longley belonged to a family of basketball players, quite a rarity in Australia at that time.
“My parents both played,” he said. “So I was around the game a lot. And I felt that basketball suits me better.”
Longley recalls the long road he took from playing in their backyard to being plucked by Gary Colson for University of New Mexico and to winning 3 crowns with the Bulls.
More than the trio of championship rings he flashes, Longley said that he considers making the NBA his greatest achievement.
“I think doing what I love to do is my greatest achievement,” he said. “That’s because I didn’t just sit down to do that, I just kept going and ended up being a pioneer for Australia.”
Longley blazed the NBA trail that has since opened up for nine more Australian-born cagers to strut their stuff in the American league. As a matter of fact, 5 of them played center, Longley’s position.
“I’m happy I was able to bridge the cultural and geographical differences,” he added. “I think taking all that on and staying is a great accomplishment.”
4 years after his retirement due to a condition in his left ankle, Longley saw the drafting of Andrew Bogut, the first Australian to be picked first in the NBA draft.
Longley was chosen with the seventh selection in the 1991 draft.
“Clearly, he’s the second-best Australian player (after me),” he joked. “He’s really good and plays hard all the time.”
Over the course of his career, Longley averaged 7.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.97 blocks and 46.2% FG, while Bogut posted more impressive numbers: 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.6 blocks and 52.2% FG.
And though Bogut might overall be better as a basketball player, Longley takes pride in being part of a Chicago squad that is still considered the best in NBA history.
The Bulls won 72 games in the 1995-96 season, rewriting the record books as Longley started all 62 games he played in and normed 9.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and a team-high 1.35 blocks.
Chicago steamrolled through the Eastern conference before getting past Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and their Seattle Supersonics in the finals.
The Bulls’ amazing feat has never been equaled ever since and that makes it extra special for Longley, who’s rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder in this year’s playoffs.
Asked whether his Chicago crew could repeat their 72-10 romp and dominate in today’s NBA, Longley had a very simple answer.
“Respectfully, yes.” – Rappler.com