Tuesday, December 4, 2012
LAKER LEGEND SERIES: RON HARPER Feature-THE 'RON
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
THE CLEVELAND SHOW
With the eight pick, in the first round of the 1986 NBA Draft the Cleveland Cavaliers select Ron Harper from the university of Miami. The hottest star out of Dayton, Ohio, 6 foot 6 and 185 pounds. A man who performed a backwards LeBron of sorts and took his talents from Miami to Cleveland, Ohio. A swinging, guard/forward combo who was on point but also could shoot. A two time MAC player of the year who ended up becoming a five time NBA champ. A man whose career championship contributions to Phil Jackson's Chicago Bull and Los Angeles Lakers teams didn't quite do even enough justice to just the player he truly was.
Ask guys like Tracy McGrady or Grant Hill just how career defining injuries are on the meant to be greats. Still just like Grant, Ron fashioned a second-career out of being a valuable veteran with superstar smarts in the second city and the one of angels, and Shaq and Kobe feud demons. Still like Hill and McGrady, the Magic curse in Orlando practically killed Anferene Hardaway's hype of being like Michael Jordan, leaving the rest of Penny's career as spare change, no matter how well it was afforded. Just like Hardaway being the next Mike, Harper was viewed as the one next to Jordan, and in some eyes the only player that could go toe-to-toe with Nike Air, whether it be in the Slam Dunk Contest or on the court.
Yes that same Ron Harper who you saw keeping it lite with Miller in the Lakers double-up celebration in Philly used to be and above the rim guy. Before injuries and slipping on Kenan and Kel's orange soda took the hops out of him like non-alcoholic beer. When Harp was playing in university he was drawing Julius Erving comparisons for his ABA made aerial ability and above amazing averages of 24.3 points per game, 11.2 rebounds per game, 3.2 steals per game, and 2.4 blocks. A steal in the first round was just what the Cleveland Cavaliers ordered for this star. Way before LeBron the billboards and the throne was Ron's. He was the one. The only one who could touch the hem of the shorts of the greatest, even if he was second Rookie Of The Year to hot-shooter, and fellow Laker twilight star Chuck Person. Not many had "more game then Ron Harper". Former Cav big man and current NASCAR commentator Brad Daughtey recently talked to SLAM magazine about how Ron was the only one who could go round and round with Mike.
THE CHICAGO WAY
"Man thank you so much for getting rid of him" Brad said Mike told him about Ron Harper. In the end Mike wasn't just thankful to no longer be going up against the dynamic defender and tenacious offensive force. After a 22.9 point average, three years of raw but ready hype, a trade to the Clippers for perimeter on point man Danny Ferry and a cruel knee injury that robbed him of his jumps and speed, Ron ended up standing next to Mike as his ally in a Chicago Bulls uniform. From foe to friend, Ron teamed up well with Mike on the greatest return from retirement after a turbulent first season for Harper. The number nine ended up being another great option behind the G.O.A.T, albeit an unsung one.
Michael's incredible, game and sport changing attributes overshadowed everything, even his fellow M.J. King of Pop in some nineties defining moments. Moments that where art like Monet, 'Money' was just that richly talented. Even the superstar sidekick play of Scottie Pippen, the European revolution of Toni Kukoc, the pure three's of household name and face Steve Kerr and the crazy on and off court antics and hairstyles of Dennis Rodman took a back-seat to the back of the jersey that read 23 or 45. Behind all that the quiet, mild-mannered Harper was always going to remain in the shadows somewhat.
Still those banners in the rafters wouldn't be there without Ron Harper's invaluable veteran contributions. Whether on the perimeter offensively or defensively or midrange, his game had that x-factor the Bulls needed. The sort of on and off the ball attributes that some armchair fans ignore but the real purists and coaches know how to draw up. The brilliant ball-handler became a fan-favorite and a crucial championship piece to Phil's playoff puzzle. You can see him in the old parade photo's next to the greatest championship cap and t-shirt on, with a cigar and smile to match. Next to Jordan like he was always meant to be.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
You don't win five championships by accident and the man that with former Lakers Dennis Rodman and Robert Horry as the only consecutive NBA Champion for two different teams has been a part of just under half of the Zen Master, Phil Jackson's 11 championship reign. Like Horace Grant and Dickie Simpkins after him, Ron was one of the former Bull brethren that Jackson managed to mediate over to Hollywood. Still yet again Ron was overshadowed by the star, headline making power of first-name term Shaq and Kobe in Los Angeles and then the amazing role player trio of Robert Horry, Rick Fox and Derek Fisher. Still Phil knew, joking with Ron after their first purple and gold championship win that he could retire after Ron asked him if he could "go home now". Still, he wasn't done, "I'll be back next year" Harp affirmed.
Even with all that however he became another pivotal piece as a veteran force in the Lakers, STAPLES born team that started a dynasty against Indiana and the Philadelphia 76ers like former eighties showtime star A.C. Green who returned to the squad in his fall-career years. The fellow star of three decades back proved in the new millennium could still make major contributions on the floor as well as the locker-room. Kobe Bryant-the only man who could truly draw Michael comparisons today-even calls Harp his 'mentor' and Ron's big buckets and stops where just as helpful to Bryant and O'Neal as the ones by Rick, Robert and Derek. In the playoffs he hit game winners against Portland and blazed averages. Fourth on the team with 10.8 points, second in assists with 3.2 and an average of 1 steal a game for second also in that category. His time in Los Angeles as a Laker was championships better then his one as a Clipper. As he aged he helped others grow.
In one vital clutch and confidence building play against the Sixers in the finals of 2001 Ron, open on the perimeter threw the ball to young, hot-streaking guard Tyronne Lue-who then was recently emasculated by Allen Iverson who stepped over him on a clutch play after Lue was pressurisingly dubbed the 'Iverson Stopper'-who was also wide open. The young player then somewhat nervously gave it up, throwing it back to Harp. Immediately and in frustration Ron launched it back at the youngster as if to say "NO...I said YOU shoot it". Which Lue in turn heeded and drained with confidence and assurance. It speaks volumes of Lue's moment of maturity to not flake again under pressure and make the basket. Still it also defines the man Ron is with his tough love, elder statesmen personality looking out for his teammate and nephew-like figure with a brilliant piece of strict support.
Giving up the glory shot also shows another side of the player Ron Harper. A man that could have been a star but was a born teammate or selfless superstar if you would. A true member of a championship squad. The league misses a guy since his assistant coaching gig with the Detroit Pistons-the team that destroyed his Laker dynasty-wasn't renewed in 2007. The man who overcame so much adversity to help others amazingly will always be one of the NBA's greats. Like all good things we miss form the nineties they just don't make players like Ron Harper anymore.