Friday, August 28, 2009

Arcane Birthday Biographies: The Ballad of Uncle John Long

Some people don't know (or can't believe) that Dick Vitale was once the coach of the Detroit Pistons.  His stay with Detroit was short and unsatisfactory, ending only twelve games into his sophomore campaign, and even before he started coaching, he was derided for taking two players from the college team he had coached the season before in the first and second round.

When a guy like Rick Pitino did a similar maneuver as coach of the Celtics, it went fairly unnoticed, but this illustrates one of the many differences between Rick Pitino and Dick Vitale.  Rick coached Kentucky.  Dick?   University of Detroit.

Needless to say, it was highly unusual for a professional team to pick two players from the University of Detroit in the first two rounds and the second round pick, John Long, was not expected to amount to much.  However, in his rookie campaign, he proved himself a reliable scorer, and was second among all rookies that year with 16.1 points per game.

While Vitale didn't stick around, Long did, and for eight years, he helped build the foundation of the Bad Boys Pistons and averaged as much as 21.9 points per game playing as Isiah Thomas's wingman (a partnership that lasted five years).  In 1984-85, Long and Thomas made a valiant run to six games in the conference semi-finals against one of the great Celtics teams of the 80s, and laid the foundation for one of the best rivalries in the history of the NBA.

Alas, in 1985-86, a young man from McNeese State named Joe Dumars was drafted by the Pistons, and that meant that John Long's time with the Pistons was through.  He was traded to the Indiana Pacers and played well, averaging over 15 per game, but the very next year, they drafted a skinny kid from UCLA named Reggie Miller, and again Long was gone.

Everyone who played with John Long admired his skill, character, and toughness, and Isiah Thomas was a driving force towards getting Long back on the Pistons just in time for them to win their first championship, even though at that point, he was barely a rotation player.  He soon retired in 1991 to barnstorm and play in Argentina, where he averaged a cool 40 points per game.

It wasn't all over, though, for John Long.  In 1995-96, at the age of forty, Long received a call from his old backcourt mate Isiah, then a first-year GM of the fledgling Toronto Raptors.  Despite a four year layoff, Long came back to play for the expansion Raptors, earning a spot at the bottom of the rotation and even hitting a game-winner against the Bullets at a time when wins didn't come too easily for the Raptors.  One night, he scored more points (12) than his two NBA nephews, Terry Mills (5) and Grant Long (9).

A great player from a family of great players that never quite made the impact to be remembered by the masses, today DGU wishes John Long a happy birthday.

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