Gentle Giant

Mark Stephens reflects on how our characters are formed in light of the story of former Chicago Bulls legend Luc Longley.

Luc Longley is a gentle giant.⠀

Standing 7ft 2in, Longley draws looks any time he’s not sitting down. Yet he eschews the attention.⠀

For three glorious years in the 1990s, Longley was the starting centre for the Chicago Bulls, perhaps the greatest basketball team ever. He played with Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman, but in so many respects, he is the very antithesis of those superstars.⠀

Jordan is the greatest player we have seen. Irrepressibly competitive, preternaturally gifted. In last year’s Netflix hit The Last Dance, it also emerged that Jordan’s capacity for sport might have come at the expense of his soul.⠀

In a recent episode of Australian Story, Longley assessed how his basketball success had affected his character. Showing uncommon insight, he confessed: “I think it eroded me a lot as a person on the way through so that when I finished playing, it was really hard to put down that athlete’s mind.”⠀

In the song “Beautiful Boy”, John Lennon sings: “Life is what happens to you/While you’re busy making other plans.” I often think similar thoughts about character formation. We imagine personal change happens via New Year’s resolutions and spiritual retreats. But more often than not, character is what happens when you’re focussed on other plans. And if we are not careful, we discover too late that our habits, our passions, our plans, and our goals have unconsciously deformed us into horrible human beings.⠀

In Longley’s case, he’s found a way back to being a “gentle, slightly alternative, giving person”. For this giant of a man, it came by experiencing the freedom of being small.⠀

Image credit to ABC Australian Story.

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