Ron Harper shares why it was much tougher to play and compete in the NBA during the ’80s and ’90s than now
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Ron Harper shares why it was much tougher to play and compete in the NBA during the ’80s and ’90s than now

Former NBA player and five-time NBA champion Ron Harper was interviewed by Hoops Hype, where he talked about several things from his illustrious career. Harper touched upon the fear factor that Jordan imposed on other players, the players who actually had the guts to trash-talk him, the difference between the NBA, and how the game was played back in the day and now. Harper came to the NBA in the mid-’80s and played until 2001, which enabled him to see a significant portion of the game’s evolution during that time period. 

Harper is still a big fan of the game, so he can draw the parallels of the difference in the NBA throughout 4 decades in which we’ve seen several changes in how games are played and officiated. According to Harper, the rules are more strict when it comes to physical contact these days if you are a defender than they were before. Previously even the referees would allow players to go after each other a bit when it comes to pure physicality, which is rarely seen in the NBA today. 

I remember earlier in my career, I’d play against Milwaukee, and I was going up against [two-time Defensive Player of the Year] Sidney Moncrief and [1986 Defensive Player of the Year] Alvin Robertson and Jay Humphries and Jerry Reynolds, and I’m trying to talk to the referee. I ask, “If they’re holding me, ain’t that a foul?!” The referee turned to me and said, “You just play hard. It’s hand-to-hand combat. You need to adapt to survive.”

Ron Harper, via HoopsHype

Harper said older players on his team helped him overcome the difficulties playing against some of the great and more experienced guys when he first came to the NBA. Veteran leadership was essential for Harper’s growth as a player and something that is perhaps missing in the NBA now, at least to an extensive degree. Harper thinks the structure of who is scoring the majority points on a team hasn’t changed in a sense you always had 2-3 guys that took the majority of shots, hoping to make the right plays. 

Fortunately, I had some older guys on my team – the Cleveland Cavaliers at the time – and they taught me some things, some tips. I took what they taught me, and that’s how I started being able to fight back and score. It was a two-guard league and, on most teams, you had two-to-three guys who scored the majority of the points. If you had a dominant center, they obviously scored too. But if you look back, most [go-to] guys were taking 25-to-35 shots. And if you could shoot 50 percent, that was great.

Ron Harper, via HoopsHype

Many fans nowadays believe the league is soft and offense drive which is correct to a certain degree. However, when Harper mentioned the referees allowed more physicality back in the day, the players got accustomed to that and learned to play that way. There are no doubts players today would do the same thing; however, the officiating overall has declined in quality. The league has obviously made a conscious decision to enable more scoring, but that has hurt their product’s overall quality to a certain degree. Hopefully, there will be more balance in the near future because fans constantly request the necessity to change the current format.