When Toronto backup center Acie Earl was told whom the Raptors had signed on Nov. 29, he was puzzled. "John Long?" Earl said. "I only know one John Long, the shooter, the guy I watched play when I was eight years old. I had his basketball card. The John Long?"
The same. He's 40 now, the fourth oldest player—and the second oldest guard, behind Hall of Famer Bob Cousy—ever to suit up in the NBA. "Guys here are killing me about my age." Long says with a laugh. "Hey, I'm not that old." He first played in 1978 for Detroit (his coach: Dick Vitale) and ""retired" in '91. After barnstorming for 3½ years with Magic Johnson's All-Stars, he played last season in Argentina, averaging nearly 40 points a game.
Toronto executive vice president Isiah Thomas signed Long to provide an example to the young Raptors. Long has proved he can still play a little, too, scoring 5.8 points in 13.9 minutes per game. On Dec. 5 his long-range jump shot with nine seconds left beat the Bullets 82-80. "When I came back. some of the refs hugged me." he says. "When I hit that shot, they told me later they went through the roof."
In the Raptors' 118-74 loss at Detroit last Saturday, Long scored more points (12) than his two nephews on the Pistons, Grant Long (9) and Terry Mills (5). "My hair is thinner," Long says. "I'm not as quick as I used to be. But I'm not the oldest guy who ever tried this. George Foreman is still fighting at 48. Nolan Ryan was pitching at 46. Not all 40-year-olds are the same."