Australia’s first NBA Champion on Andrew Bogut as Golden State take the 2015 title.
As Golden State began to bask in their 2015 NBA Championship Glory, Luc Longley as the first Australian to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy aloft and a former teammate of Warriors coach Steve Kerr, reflected on the momentous achievement that unfolded following 82 regular season games and an arduous six-game finals series.
Four Australians have now followed in Longley’s footsteps: Andrew Gaze with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999; Aron Baynes and Patty Mills with the Spurs in 2014. Bogut, having been at the pointy end of the current generation of talent is a natural fit within an elite club.
For Longley, his 1996 NBA Championship would be the first of the magnificent three-peat that he achieved with the dominant Chicago Bulls. His time in the NBA blazed a trail that all Australian basketballers tread, his influence impossible to ignore.
“I certainly think that everyone in Australian basketball should be proud of him,” said Longley from the Centre of Excellence where he is helping the Australian men’s team prepare for the World University Games next month. “I have reasons to be proud. We have punched above our weight for a long time as a basketball nation. The men haven’t had an Olympic medal yet, but getting hardware in the NBA certainly validates a lot of things that we think are great about the Australian basketball program. A medal would help, too,” he added, the task at hand for the Boomers of whom he is an assistant coach not far from his mind with Rio just over a year away.
Bogut burst onto the NBA stage in 2005 as the number one draft pick in 2005 but the journey to championship winner has been far from easy with injury threatening to bring Bogut’s rise to a premature halt more than once over the last decade. Longley too, was quick to remember that Bogut’s NBA career has run the gamut.
“It’s great to see a guy that’s so talented and career that’s been so full of all kinds of things… he’s been a fantastic player in the league, he’s been injured a lot, now he’s finally got a championship ring and I couldn’t be happier for him.“
No one pulls on a championship ring by accident. It’s a game-changer as Longley well knows.
“It’s a crowning moment for ‘Boges’ and that’s how he should look at it,” says Longley. “It’s a special thing. A lot of players go their whole lives and don’t do it. I suppose there’s a sense of it being a milestone; a sense of completion; a destination arrived at.
“No one can ever take an NBA Championship away from you.” Simple and true.
In his role within the Warriors’ line-up, Bogut has come into his own this season. Or as Stephen Curry dubbed him, Golden State’s “eraser”. San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard may have beaten Golden State’s Draymond Green to the official Defensive Player of the Year award but Bogut’s influence is hard to ignore. Bogut (5.39) actually tops the league and Leonard (4.59), ranking sixth, on ESPN’s defensive plus-minus. Leonard gets one back on Bogut, with the Spurs man topping the individual defensive ratings at 96.4 while the Australian was second at 96.8. Think of Bogut as the deft swat, protector of the rim within a team where each player’s role was harmonised to perfection by Kerr and records tumbled.
“They’ve done the hard work. They’ve got an incredibly committed and balanced line-up. They’ve got guys who have accepted roles that aren’t roles that they necessarily had in their own minds at the start of the season,” Longley assesses before highlighting the efforts of the Finals MVP.
“Andre Iguodala is a great example; he stayed ready he stayed prepared and he stepped up to the plate.
“I don’t think you will find a single person that would argue that the Warriors don’t deserve this win. As for Steve Kerr – it’s just a great story for him.”
As for the other Australian who was in the battle to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy aloft in 2015, Matthew Dellavedova, Longley believes there is more to come. Dellavedova became a major talking point throughout the Finals for his tenacious defence on Stephen Curry who seemingly had the ball on a string.
“You can’t underestimate what it means to lose two All-Star starters,” says Longley with Cleveland without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. “They’ve got a brand new coach too, so the fact that they’ve got it together and got six games into the finals against a really good Warriors team, there’s no second prizes, but it is an impressive effort.
“Delly’s become the emotional leader of that team,” Longley continues. “That’s a tribute to him as a young man and as a product of Australian basketball. I’m disappointed for Delly but he’s got a lot of years left in the league and he’s won a lot of hearts. Playing alongside LeBron, he’ll get another shot.”