Former NBA player and five-time NBA champion Ron Harper had a tremendous career having the opportunity to play with and against numerous great players. Harper himself was an elite player when coming to the NBA, but injuries took a toll on him, and he was never the same player he was when he first came to the league. Nevertheless, he transformed into a solid role player that got the opportunity to play for the Chicago Bulls during their second three-peat. That was a perfect opportunity for Harper to understand better Michael Jordan and what made him so special compared to other great players in the NBA at that time.
Harper says there was a real fear factor surrounding Jordan, and players were intimidated when playing against him. Some of them would start trash-talking Michael in hopes of getting themselves going, and the majority of times, that would be a terrible idea. Harper never understood why other players had to make that type of mistake when playing against Jordan because he always took it personally, which meant you are in big trouble.
He didn’t just intimidate you [during the game]. When you played against MJ, you were thinking about it the night before. You knew that you had to get a good night’s sleep because he was going to come with it. Some guys would start trash talking with him. I used to ask guys, “Why are you talking trash to him first?! That’s not smart!”Ron Harper, via HoopsHype
Before Harper joined the Bulls, he hung out with Jordan on several occasions, and he always tried to have minimum contact with him in hopes not to say something wrong. Harper didn’t want Jordan to have him on his list of targets the next day they played against each other.
Before we were teammates, I remember I was getting ready to play against him, and the night before our game, he had me and some other guys over to his house to play cards. So we’re at MJ’s house the night before [our game], and we’re playing cards, and he was sitting right next to me. He kept trying to talk to me like, “Harpy! What’s up, man? Everything good?” I’m just like… [Looks straight ahead, wide-eyed]. I’d just mumble, “Hey Mike, how you doing?” That’s it. He asked me, “What’s wrong?” I told him, “I ain’t going to talk to you and say anything you can use to get upset because you’ll just keep shooting the damn ball over me and score on me all night. I’m just going to be nice and polite to you, buddy.Ron Harper, via HoopsHype
Even though other players knew not to mess around with Jordan or trash talk him, Harper remembers there were a few that often did it. Guys like Reggie Miller, Nick Anderson, and Gary Payton didn’t care, and they constantly went at Jordan and used any means necessary to try and get him out of his groove. Obviously, Jordan would immediately take the matter into his own hands and do anything in his power to show everyone on the court who the alpha male is by punishing every player that talked smack to him.
But there were guys who would talk trash to him. Reggie Miller used to talk trash to him. Nick Anderson would do it. Gary Payton would talk trash to everybody – he couldn’t shut up. (Laughs) But he talked trash to MJ too. A lot of guys would start talking to him, and that just flipped a switch in him. I’d see him go, “What’d you just say? Hey, throw me the ball.” It was fun… when you were on his team.Ron Harper, via HoopsHype