From Superstar To Super Role Player: The Story Of Why Ron Harper Is Better Than You Remember

Harper, the former Defensive Player of the Year and Superstar has a career that is less flashy than it once was. In this week’s edition of NBA News and Notes, we take a look at why Harper remains relevant in today’s league while he still looks back on his illustrious past with pride.

“Ron Harper last dance” is a song by the artist “The Game”. It tells the story of how Ron Harper went from being a superstar to becoming a super role player.

Many people remember Ron Harper as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s sidekick during the Chicago Bulls’ past three championship campaigns.

But what if I told you that Harper was one of Jordan’s greatest rivals in the 1980s? Some have even likened Harper to Jordan, notably Dennis Rodman, a former teammate of both athletes.

“That one man, Ron Harper, was the silent assassin on that squad.” Nobody mentions him. If it hadn’t been for that knee injury, he may have been the greatest player ever. Because he was terrific, he was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan to me.”

That’s a lot of praise, particularly since Michael Jordan entered the NBA two years before Ron Harper.

Harper didn’t always get a lot of praise. In reality, Harper was cut from his high school’s basketball team as a freshman at Belmont High School in Dayton, Ohio.

Harper didn’t play as a sophomore either. So it was a long shot that he’d have a career in the NBA one day.

But Harper’s life would alter in more ways than one. Harper would attend Kiser High School in Dayton after transferring from another Dayton high school.

Harper’s life would alter for the first time. The second difference is that Harper would be selected for the basketball team and would play.

Harper averaged 20.5 points, 13.4 rebounds, five assists, five steals, and six blocked shots a game as a senior.

Harper deservedly earned first-team All-Ohio honors. In his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, he is well-liked. Ron Harper received the ultimate gesture of appreciation from his former high school, which has subsequently been converted into an elementary school.

In 2006, the gymnasium at what is now Kiser Elementary School was dedicated after him. That’s quite impressive for someone who didn’t play basketball throughout his first two years of high school, eh?

By the time schools started knocking, Ronnie Harper had found his stride on the basketball floor.

Harper did go to college to play baseball, and he chose Miami University of Ohio to be near to home.

His squad did not do well during his rookie year of college. They had a 13–15 record at the end of the season. This was not, however, due to Harper. No, he did not do well as a freshman.

Harper was the team’s rebounding leader, averaging 7.0 per game, and averaging 12.9 points per game.

Not only did Harper improve in his second year, but so did his team. Miami University of Ohio won the Mid-American Conference title, the MAC tournament championship, and an NCAA tournament spot with a 24-6 record.

With 16.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game, Ron Harper led the squad in scoring and rebounding.

His junior season saw him make the most progress in his career. Harper averaged 24.9 points per game, which ranks second all-time at the institution.

Harper had a 10.7 rebounding and 2.6 steals per game average. These were all career highs for the team.

Ron Harper’s game reached new heights, and it wasn’t lost on anybody. Harper received the MAC Player of the Year award.

Miami University of Ohio had a 20–11 record this year. They finished second in the MAC tournament and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

Harper led his team to a 24–7 record and the MAC championship as a senior. Miami University of Ohio has qualified for the NCAA tournament once again.

Ron Harper demonstrated as a senior that he was NBA ready. He had 24.4 points per game, 11.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 3.3 steals.

In the process, Harper established a couple school and MAC records. He scored 45 points in one game, a school and MAC tournament single-game record. The most bizarre aspect of his game is that he also got 18 rebounds!

With 38 points, 19 rebounds, and 12 assists in a game against Ball State University, Harper became the first MAC player to ever achieve a triple-double.

Ron Harper was selected MAC Player of the Year for the second year in a row, and he was also chosen to the Associated Press and United Press International second-team All-American teams.

Ron Harper was ready for the NBA after concluding his collegiate career as the all-time leading scorer with 2,377 points and the all-time leading rebounder with 1,119.

Ron Harper was chosen eighth overall in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. As a rookie, Harper made an immediate impact.

He scored 34 points against the Sacramento Kings in just his sixth game.

In a game against the Boston Celtics, Harper may score as much as 40 points. Against the New York Knicks, he’d also have 16 rebounds.

Harper was an excellent rookie. He scored 22.9 points per game, grabbed 4.8 rebounds, assisted 4.8 times, stole 2.5 times, and blocked 1.0 shot.

These stats are impressive enough to earn Rookie of the Year…

Unfortunately for Ron Harper, he came in second place in the Rookie of the Year vote behind Chuck Person of the Indiana Pacers.

This might have been due to the Cavaliers’ dismal performance in the 1986-87 season. With a 31-51 record, they finished bottom in the Central Division.

Michael Jordan vs. Ron Harper 

How did a rookie Ron Harper fair in his first game against His Airness? Dennis Rodman likened Ron Harper to the great Michael Jordan, but how did a rookie Ron Harper fare in his first game against His Airness?

By a score of 94-89, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers. Jordan would have a monster game, scoring 41 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and blocking four shots.

Ron Harper, a rookie, performed well. He scored 23 points while grabbing 5 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists, and securing 2 steals.

Ron Harper would suffer a setback in his second season in the NBA, one that would torment him for the rest of his career.

Harper would injure his ankle in just the second game of the season. This ailment persisted, limiting him to just 57 games throughout the season.

Harper would return and be ready for his rematch with Michael Jordan in the playoffs. He’d also be a good player.

Harper had a per-game average of 17.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.8 steals, and 1.0 block. These are outstanding figures, particularly for a second-year player returning from an injury.

The issue was that Michael Jordan was on a different level. In the first two games, MJ scored 50 and 55 points, becoming the first and only player in postseason history to have back-to-back 50-point performances.

In a hard-fought series, the Bulls overcame the Cavs 3-2. The home-court advantage of the Chicago Bulls helped them win the series, since the home team won every game.

Harper averaged 18.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.3 steals in his third season, in which he appeared in all 82 games.

In the first round, Harper would face Michael Jordan and the Bulls again.

The Cavs and Bulls would go the full five games, just like the previous year. The Cavs, on the other hand, would enjoy home-court advantage this season.

It didn’t matter, however. Despite scoring 22 points and dishing out six assists in Game 5, Harper was unable to equal Jordan’s 44 points and his iconic “Shot” to beat the buzzer.

The Bulls defeated the Cavs 101-100, and Jordan’s legend soared with his game-winning shot.

Ron Harper made some bold claims regarding the last play of game 5 in the highly anticipated and praised documentary “The Last Dance”:

“We were up one, and I told Coach, ‘Coach, I got MJ.’” ‘I’m going to put Ehlo on MJ,’ says Coach (Lenny Wilkens). I’m like, “OK, whatever,” and I’m like, “Yeah, OK, whatever.”

We don’t know for sure since Craig Ehlo doesn’t recall Harper wanting to defend Jordan for the final position. Harper would have been the superior pick since he plainly performed a better job guarding Jordan.

Harper’s fourth season would be full of upheaval and heartbreak. Harper was moved to the Los Angeles Clippers after just seven games with the Cavs.

He’d play in 28 games there before suffering a season-ending ACL rupture, which would affect the course of his NBA career.

Harper would stay in Los Angeles for four more seasons as a Clipper, and his point averages remained consistent:

-19.6 percent (91)

-18.2 percent (92)

-17.8 (93)

-19.1 (94)

Harper’s stats were still impressive, but his explosiveness wasn’t what it had been before the ACL injury.

Michael Jordan, Ron Harper’s main competitor, surprisingly retired after the 1993 NBA season. As a result, the Bulls were in need of a replacement guard…

Ron Harper would be the void-filling guard for the Bulls. He went on to start 53 of the 77 games in which he appeared.

Harper’s output has plummeted since his days in Cleveland and Los Angeles. He only scored 6.9 points per game on average.

Harper’s role looked to be diminishing even more by the time Michael Jordan returned to the game, but it didn’t, it evolved.

Michael Jordan was back in basketball condition by 1996, and he was on his way to winning his fourth championship. You don’t hear much about the Bulls’ other players outside Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Steve Kerr, the sharpshooter turned coach.

This is a blunder. From the first to the last member on the bench, the Chicago Bulls were a strong team.

Ron Harper was one of the most significant components of their championship jigsaw.

He may not have averaged a lot of points in his five seasons with the Chicago Bulls (7.9 per game), but his defense and “brains” helped the team win three in a row.

Let’s take a look at Ron Harper’s case. As a defender, he is completely underappreciated in the league.

It’s insane that he’s never made an All-NBA Defensive Team, much alone the second team.

The Bulls’ stifling defense was one of the reasons they were so successful.

Jordan, Pippen, and Harper would be exhausted if they had to alternate protecting their opponent’s greatest player.

Ron Harper’s value was rapidly realized in the 1996 NBA Finals versus the Seattle Supersonics.

In games one and two, Harper was outstanding in his defense of Supersonics guard Gary Payton. Payton was restricted to only 13 points a game on 37.5 percent shooting.

Harper’s defense was not only effective in slowing down Payton, but it also allowed Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to relax and concentrate on other players.

In game two, Harper hurt his left knee, but he battled through it. He barely played 15 minutes in games three, four, and five, with just one minute of playing time in games three and five.

Gary Payton was considerably better in the three games. He shot 43.8 percent from the field and scored 21 points a game.

Payton’s shooting percentage was still not great, but he improved by 6.3 percent while averaging 8 points per game.

The most significant statistic was that the Supersonics won two of the three games in which Harper was injured.

In game six, Harper played 38 minutes and scored 10 points despite not having his finest shooting night (3-11).

Gary Payton would have his finest shooting performance of the series, going 7-10 and scoring 19 points. However, with Ron Harper back, Michael Jordan no longer had to follow Gary Payton around, allowing him to spend his efforts on offense.

The Bulls went on to win 87-75 over the Supersonics, and Ron Harper became an NBA champion.

He’d play one more season in Chicago, the lockout-shortened season without Jordan and Pippen in 1999, after winning two more championships with the Bulls and properly performing his position for the squad.

Harper would reconnect with Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ new head coach, in 2000. Harper was back in Los Angeles, but this time he would have a very different experience.

Ron Harper would play the same role as he did as a Bull as a Laker. He was a terrific defender and aided in the execution of Jackson’s famed triangle attack.

Harper chose to end it a career after winning two more championships in Los Angeles, increasing his total to five.

Ron Harper is a champion, a consummate professional, and an outstanding basketball player. Few players could have gone from being a star, a team’s best option, to a role player who may not receive a chance in any given game.

But Harper adapted, and given his effect on some of the best NBA teams of all time, I think Ron Harper deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and I believe you should as well.


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