Grant Long is the second-greatest basketball player in Eastern Michigan history. Hall of Famer George “Iceman” Gervin and his 26,595 career points (17,077 more than Long) qualify him as the best in school history. Impressively, Long trailed Gervin by just 57 career games with 1,003.
Strong and physical, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Long was known for his work ethic and defense. He played 15 seasons in the NBA with Miami, Atlanta (twice), Detroit, Vancouver/Memphis and Boston and ranks 102nd on the league's all-time list of games played. A second-round pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, Long was third overall selection of the expansion Miami Heat in its inaugural season.
Long is in his fifth season as the Thunder's television color analyst and previously served as a color analyst for the Atlanta Hawks, Turner Broadcasting and the Fox Sports Network.
Born in Wayne, Mich., Long was nationally recruited out of neighboring Romulus High School and was named 1988 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year his senior season at Eastern Michigan (23.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg).
Long's family genes created some great athletes. His uncle, John Long, played 14 NBA seasons and had a career scoring average of 19.3. His cousin and best friend, Terry Mills, played for 11 NBA seasons. His brother, Julius Long, is a 7-foot-1 professional boxer/kickboxer.
Wow, I don't know how many years I've been married. Honestly, I never count the years. I just know what date it was — Sept. 22, 1989. Is it really important to know how long you've been married? I know the date. It's not a race to the finish. You just go with it.
There were five us (in our family) growing up. It was great. We lived in a small neighborhood. My next-door neighbor was my cousin and best friend, Terry Mills. We collected bottle caps on the side of the road, took them to the store and got 10 cents off of them. That was our existence. He's two yours younger than me. Eastern Michigan and Michigan were 10 minutes apart. We would hang out on each other's campus daily.
T (Mills) was probably one of the best players I've ever come across. He was 6-(foot)-10 and could do anything he wanted to do. He was real wiry. He was like a Sam Bowie skinny. When he got to college, they wanted him to put on weight. All that weight took away the things that made him great. He could never lose the weight after that.
I like to stay in shape, if for no other reason than to challenge myself. I set targets. It might take me two months to get to it, but I see if I can get it done.
With the Thunder, it's almost like peer pressure to always be in great shape. But that's good. It's like, “I can't be the one slackin'.”
In my neighborhood, guys who went to school locally always seemed to come back to the neighborhood on the weekends. All the sudden, they'd stay till Monday, skip school, then Monday turned into Wednesday, then they'd just go to practice and come back home. All of a sudden they were kicked out of school and they'd just stay home.
Something was always pulling people back to their old neighborhood and they would just flunk out of school. I was trying to protect myself from that. I didn't want to be pulled back to the neighborhood and just flunk out, so I'm getting as far away as I can. I was making this decision by myself. No one else helped me.
You name a school, and I was recruited by it coming out of high school. UCLA, any school you could name, I was recruited by that school, plus all of the in-state schools. I told all the in-state schools to stop recruiting me, because I wasn't going.
I was ready to sign with Louisiana Tech — Karl Malone, everyone else was there. It was wonderful. My uncle, John Long, comes to me and says, “Why would you do that? Not a good move. Nobody knows you out of state. Everybody knows you here. If you're starting and they suddenly recruit Mr. Basketball from the state of Louisiana, who's going to sit, him or you?” That made a lot of sense to me.
During the process, one school continued to recruit me and that was Eastern. It was a slow progression in college. It was just a natural progression. I got better every season.
I was ecstatic to get drafted by Miami. The Lakers were my dream team, but I wasn't going to beat out anybody from the Lakers. Miami took some guys in the expansion draft, but those were guys nobody else wanted. I basically had 12 opportunities to make an NBA team. That's how I looked at it. It's wide-open. No guaranteed money. They didn't have any loyalty to the guys in the expansion draft.
Look who I was playing with — Glen Rice, Steve Smith, Rony Seikaly — and I was a contributor on a talent-laden team. All those guys were lottery picks and here I am a second-rounder who was starting. It was great.
The will to compete is the reason I lasted 15 seasons in the league, being passionate about the sport, playing all-out.
I kind of look at Nick Collison as being me. He's my guy. I live vicariously through Nick. My teams never had the success that the Thunder has had, but Nick is a guy who plays like me. You can play like that and still be on a successful team.
I was always the guy where people said, “Grant would be a great guy on a championship team, the way he works,” but I never had the opportunity. Nick is that guy. He does what I did.
Of modern-day players, I would say my game was probably most like Nick's. He's that guy who sometimes takes 15-foot jump shots. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes not. But what's consistent about him is he's going to always set screens, always rebound, always plays tough, always defends.
The numbers might be different from night to night, but the effort is going to always be there. I used to have players get mad at me for taking charges. “Play defense, man. Stop taking charges.” To me, that's an element of the game.
I held out for my biggest contract ($2.98 million in 1999). I had a consecutive streak of 200-some-odd games and I had to hold out to get that contract. I seriously considered signing a bad contract just to keep my streak alive, but I held out.
I had a lot of guys who came to support me, who I never even knew, that told me, “I'm glad you held out. I'm glad you did what you did.” I'm no Curt Flood or nothing like that, but the guys were glad I held out.
My rookie season, I led the NBA in fouls and disqualifications. I had no idea I was even on that mark. I didn't pay attention to it at all. I just played. I never looked at it like, “Oh, I've got two fouls. I've got to slow down.” I just played, man.
I never had a coach at any level ever once come up to me during a game and give me instruction on what to do. They just said, “Go do what you do. Just go play and we'll live with the results.”
My retirement was instantly going to be, “OK, let's take a year off and then get into coaching.” That never really materialized. That door never opened. I had a lot of people that I talked to. When you get out you realize there are a lot of guys who try to get into coaching. I got to coach a couple of times at the pre-draft camp, but nothing ever came of it.
I got calls from Gregg Popovich, Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle. Brian Hill (of Orlando) called and said, “I'm looking at a guy that I've watched for a long time. I've had my eye on him. If he doesn't want it, I'll call you back.” That guy ended up being (Thunder assistant) Mark Bryant.
(Thunder general manager) Sam Presti and I have never had that conversation (about becoming an assistant). I just think he's so keen on what's going on around him, if we needed to have that conversation, I'm sure we would. Actively, I haven't continued to pursue it.
I really do have a dream job. It's something that just kind of fell in my lap and I ran with it. I never knew this would be the job I got after playing. It keeps me close to the game.
I told (radio play-by-play man) Matt Pinto, “I can't believe I'm calling the Western Conference Finals and then one year later I'm calling the Finals? Are you serious? That doesn't happen.”
My uncle, my cousin and me, that's three family members playing in the NBA. That's kind of odd in itself, but then to be associated with NBA basketball now for 25 years in some capacity, I still scratch my head and say, “Wow, I'm completely blessed.”
The guy I could physically reach out and touch was my uncle (John Long). I watched him in high school. I watched him when he went to the University of Detroit. When he and (coach) Dick Vitale were with the Detroit Pistons, I sat in the front row. Sometimes when things are that close to you, you don't really appreciate it like you should.
Magic Johnson posters covered my wall. My college roommate was Greg Kelser's brother. I'd keep him up all night asking, “Tell me what Greg said about Magic.” When Greg would visit us in our dorm, I'd be like, “Tell me about Magic.”
Greg got married my senior year in college and I found out Magic was going to be there. Man, I got dressed and I went to the wedding just to get a glimpse of Magic Johnson. I get there and he was already gone. Aw, man.
How would I defend Kevin Durant? I would try to crowd his space and make it as uncomfortable as possible. Whether that would work would be left to be seen. I would not back off of him.
If you're a good defender, the first thing you want to do is make the person you're guarding reactive. Most people get that backward, they want to react to what the offensive player is doing. I always felt as a defender I could make you react to what I'm doing.
What Perk (center Kendrick Perkins) does now, when he's out with the guards trying to shadow the ballhandler, I used to do that a lot. I got that from Larry Nance.
The things that are said about Perk don't get under my craw, but I know how this team is built and everybody's here for a certain reason. Everybody plays a role and his role is what it is. And Perk does that. Thabo (Sefolosha) could easily put up bigger (offensive) numbers if he's forced to, but that's not what he's brought here to do.
I like the state of the game, but I like personalities that are naturally generated. Look at me, me, me, me, me. Making a bunch of noise, jumping up and down. Look at me, me, me, me. Man, just let is happen naturally.
If you're good, people will find you. If you have personality that's worth celebrating, they'll find it. Just be natural about it. Beating on your chest, pulling on your shirt … yeah, we see ya.
Even though I'm not part of the players association now — I'm part of the retired players association — I still want to see the current players being taken care of and not being abused.