Ron Harper, One of the best NBA players ever NOT to be selected to play in the actual NBA All-Star game, competed in two memorable NBA Slam Dunk competitions – in Seattle 1987 & Houston 1989. Unfortunately, both times he failed to reach the semifinal round of the competition.
One of the most spectacular NBA players of the late 1980s and early 1990s also presented his leaping ability and his slam-dunking repertoire in the slam dunk competition of the 1988 Magic Johnson Midsummer Charity Game, which was played on August 7th, 1988 in Great Western Forum, L.A.
That evening the spotlight belonged to the 1988 NBA All-Star Game MVP Michael Jordan who scored game-high 54 points. But even MJ’s heroics weren’t enough to stop the Blue team from losing this one, by an extraordinary result of 203-202. Yup, you got it right – 203-202.
Without any judges, and pressure to qualify for the next round of the competition, Harper bravely accelerated, leaped off just inside the charity stripe line, flew over three Laker girls and slam-dunked the ball! One of the girls is Lisa Estrada who was Laker girls director up until 2017 when she was promoted to VP of facilities operations.
How good exactly was Ron Harper?
In short, Harper is one of the best players ever NOT to be selected onto the NBA All-Star Game.
While in Cleveland, during his initial three NBA seasons, he was considered the only player in the NBA that could play au pair with the untouchable Chicago Bulls scoring ‘machine’ – Michael Jordan.
But six games into the 1989-90 season Cavs GM Wayne Embry, who did a great job in 1986 NBA draft (the draft class which also included Harper) made one of his worst career calls when he decided to trade quiet shooting guard to the L.A. Clippers for Danny Ferry (who was playing in Italy at the time).
Back in 2010, Harper himself claimed that the Cavs could have won multiple championships if he wasn’t traded.
In Cali, things for ‘Harp’ started the hard way – he suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury only 28 games into the 1989-90 NBA season and underwent right knee surgery.
‘Jordan of the West’ eventually returned in the full strength for the 1990-91 campaign and became one of the major contributors for the gradually improving Clippers squad in the first half of the 1990s. It was Bulls GM Jerry Krause who came up with just another one of his famous ‘steals’ when he signed Harper on September 15th, 1994.
At first, the move went relatively unnoticed across the League.
But, only a year later, with MJ back from the baseball field and on a mission to bring back the Bulls onto the very top of the NBA, the magnitude of having Harper on the roster of legitimate contender became evident.
For the opponents across the NBA, to see Harper in full strength, with many of his ‘Jordanesque’ assets still intact, starting the games in the same backcourt with Jordan, was just too intimidating.
Playing for the head coach Phil Jackson at the point guard position, both for the Bulls (1994-1999) and the Lakers (1999-2001,) he orchestrated ‘triangle offense’ halfcourt set to perfection, while also making huge contributions on both ends of the floor, doing anything his team needed to win.
‘Harp’ left the court with a wide smile on his face, and Cavs and Clippers fans wondering, winning as many as five NBA Championships (with the Bulls in 1996, 1997, 1998; with the Lakers in 2000 and 2001).
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is BN contributor and the author of the book ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ which can be found here.