Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog - Wally-Pipped twice, John Long able to move on
Wally-Pipped twice, Long able to move on
Not only was he Wally Pipped -- it happened twice.
A Detroit player to his core, Long was born in suburban Romulus, Mich., and was a star under Dick Vitale at the University of Detroit. The Pistons drafted him in 1978 and he produced right away, averaging 16.1 points as a rookie, increasing to 21.9 in his fourth season. But in 1985, when Long thought he was well-established as the starter at shooting guard alongside Isiah Thomas, the Pistons drafted Joe Dumars.
Traded to the Pacers the following year, Long moved right into the starting lineup and once again established himself as a productive player. But in 1987, Indiana drafted Reggie Miller, and Long's days in Indianapolis were numbered.
"The thing is, I had some good mentors that really looked out for me in guys like Bob Lanier and Chris Ford and M.L. Carr and Kevin Porter and guys like that," said Long, back in Detroit serving as a community ambassador and part-time radio analyst for the Pistons. "Bob Lanier really took me up under his wing … One of the things he said to me when I first made the team was 'John, I want you to know one thing: anything that happens in this profession, don't get stressed out by it, don't let it bother you because it's a business.' And that's the way I always looked at it."
His upbringing as the youngest in a family of 10 also helped Long cope.
"Being the baby, always getting punished by your sisters and your brothers when you're growing up, you don't take anything for granted," he said. "You need to he thankful and blessed enough to know that anything you achieve, you cherish but things change and things happen so you have to be prepared and willing to take a back seat sometimes."
An aggressive defender and a streaky shooter, the 6-5 Long had the misfortune of being traded away from Detroit when the Pistons were on the cusp of their Bad Boys glory years. The Pistons hoped to keep him in the Western Conference, working out a deal with Seattle. But the Sonics then traded him to the Pacers for Terence Stansbury and Russ Schoene on Oct. 2, 1986.
Long started 68 games his first season with the Pacers, averaging 15.2 points. Though Miller was drafted the following June, Long remained in the starting lineup for 81 games in 1987-88, averaging 12.8 before passing the torch to the future Hall of Famer.
Like the veterans in Detroit had done for him when he broke into the NBA, Long took pride in mentoring Miller.
"I always used to give him flak about hearing him on TNT talking about all the different mentors he had, talking about the Davis boys, Mark and all those guys and I'm like, 'Wait a minute,' '' Long said with a laugh. "I can recall when Herb Williams, Wayman Tisdale and guys like that were in Indiana with me and when we drafted Reggie he was playing behind me and I was the one taught him how to come off a screen, taught him how to position himself and set his man up coming off a screen.
"I used to tease him and say, 'Hey, you've got to give me some credit for helping you and grooming you to the point you were able to do all those things. You had a lot of talent but I taught you a lot before I left there.' And we laughed about that."
What appeared to be another bad break for his career turned into an unexpected bonus. When the Pacers were unable to work out a deal sending Long to Charlotte, they released him in February 1989 and he returned to Detroit, winning a championship ring with the Pistons that season.
"I remember Bob Lanier saying to me, 'It doesn't matter how much money you have or what you do, when you have pride in playing this game and you play for all these years, you want a championship ring to show for it,' '' Long said. "I was blessed to be able to play on a championship team with a great group of guys and we had so much fun. Winning that, you'll never forget that time. And then I was blessed to be on the radio when we won it again and got another championship ring for broadcasting. Just being a part of that is really something special. Words cannot describe what it feels like when you win everything."
His current role is well-suited for Long as it keeps him active in the community. He works camps and clinics, speaks at Detroit-area schools and serves as the radio analyst for selected home games.
"I'm doing a little bit of everything," he said. "I try to stay pretty active in the community. It's amazing when some of these kids find out in advance who's coming to speak at their school or at a function, their parents give them a little history on what that player did so the kids know what's going on. When they raise their hands to ask questions, they always tell me their mom and dad remember watching me play and they thought I was a pretty good player so that's always good because it makes you feel appreciated."
One of the key messages he passes on is that which guided his life.
"I always thought it was a blessing to be able to play in the NBA and I never took anything for granted, so that's how I was able to stay grounded," he said. "At some point in time when people feel like you need to be more willing to share time with players they want to groom a little more, you've got to be understanding of that."