In February 1993, the Chicago Bulls acquired Australian center Luc Longley from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a move that gave them a big stabilizer in the middle. The Michael Jordan-less Bulls, led by Scottie Pippen, finished the 1993-94 season with 55 wins and took the New York Knicks to seven games in the ’94 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Jordan returned to the Bulls near the end of the 1994-95 season after playing baseball for the Birmingham Barons. That’s when he got his first look at Longley, and the superstar shooting guard knew he would have to show the big man tough love if the Bulls were going to win titles again.
Michael Jordan had to show Luc Longley tough love
In a preview of Longley’s documentary set to come out soon, Jordan talked about how he had to show the skilled big man tough love to get the best out of him. The Bulls legend, who was very intricate on his teammates, always knew the center was capable of being good, but he needed Longley to be productive every single game.
“I knew he was capable,” Jordan said. “We all felt he was capable. But you have to be capable every single night. You had to show him a little tough love. You know, that’s what I call it, tough love. We went through the trenches. We shared a lot.”
Jordan, Longley, and the Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the only playoff series His Airness lost from 1991 to 1998. In the summer of 1995, Jordan got back into basketball shape on the set of Space Jam and came back with a vengeance for the 1995-96 season.
However, he needed to know Longley would be ready for war, as well as the other players who weren’t on the three championship teams in 1991, 1992, and 1993. During the 1995 training camp, Jordan talked a lot of smack in practice and went after guys so they knew what it was like to be in the trenches, and Longley and Steve Kerr were his primary targets.
Michael Jordan was upset Luc Longley and Steve Kerr came in riding high on Bulls’ first three-peat
Jordan’s mindset coming into the 1995-96 season was that if his teammates didn’t understand what it was like to be in the trenches, they wouldn’t respond when the war started in the playoffs. The five-time MVP was upset that Longley and Kerr — and other guys who weren’t part of the first three-peat — came into practices riding high just because they were on the Bulls.
Bulls head coach Phil Jackson put Kerr on Jordan during a practice one day, and all hell broke loose. Jackson was calling ticky-tack fouls on Jordan, who got upset because he felt that the Zen Master was doing the wrong thing by protecting Kerr. MJ wanted his teammates to be tough and ready for the hard fouls they were going to receive in the playoffs.
Jordan fouled Kerr hard on one play and the sharpshooter retaliated by hitting him in the chest. Black Jesus then punched Kerr in the eye and was thrown out of practice. Jordan admitted in The Last Dance it wasn’t anything personal against Kerr and that his aggression was high that particular day.
Kerr and Jordan made up on the phone. Meanwhile, Longley was still ridden hard by the 10-time scoring champion for the next three seasons. Based on the results, though, it all clearly paid off.
Bulls won three rings in ’96, ’97 and ’98
Behind Jordan and Pippen, the Bulls won three straight rings in 1996, 1997, and 1998. Longley played a significant role in the paint. He averaged 9.9 points and 5.5 rebounds from 1995-96 to 1997-98.
During the Bulls’ three playoff runs while winning the title, Longley put up 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds. Jordan, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman naturally got all the attention, but Longley’s presence on defense and his ability to be an offensive threat in the paint were vital.
Despite winning three championships with Jordan, Longley chose not to be interviewed for The Last Dance docuseries. It’s neat, though, that Jordan decided to take part in Longley’s documentary. It should undoubtedly be must-see TV, especially since Jordan, Pippen, Kerr, and Jackson are interviewed.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.