Ron Harper had a long and successful NBA career, threepeating alongside Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. Rodman believes he could’ve been an even bigger star.
Penny Hardaway, Derrick Rose, Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady are some of the first names that spring to mind when we think about NBA what-ifs. All 4 of these players had MVP-caliber talent (Rose even won one), but we were robbed of several years of each of these players’ primes.
In these terms, basketball history also has the likes of Bill Walton. The former Blazers legend is the only player to have won Finals MVP, MVP and Sixth Man of the Year. Walton lost nearly a decade of his career to debilitating injuries all over his body.
Among these what-ifs is also the case of Ron Harper, who was drafted in 1986. This was the year after Walton won his second championship and Sixth Man of the Year honors. This was also the same draft class that had Len Bias, who could’ve been the Michael Jordan to follow MJ.
What actually happened to Harper’s career before he joined the Bulls?
Harper played as a do-it-all guard capable of playing both positions. At his height of 6’6″, Ron was one of the best and most reliable two-way talents in the league during his time.
Rodman was also a member of that same 1986 draft class. However, he went in the second round, a few picks after Harper who was selected 8th by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ron finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year reckoning behind the Indiana Pacers’ Chuck Person that year. He averaged nearly 23 points per game that year, but he would never be able to match those figures.
He was curiously traded to the Clippers out of the blue, a few games into the 1989-90 season, when disaster struck. 28 games into his Clippers career, Harper suffered an ACL tear that ruled him out till the halfway point of the following season.
This didn’t deter Ron, who continued to plug away at the Western Conference with the running mates he had. Harper was able to spur the Clippers to 2 straight playoff appearances in 1992 and 1993. He was a do-it-all guard in the mould of MJ (though he wasn’t blessed with the same athleticism). The Clippers loved him for it, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to be leading them deep into the playoffs.
Harper had turned 30 after the 1993-94 season. The clock was ticking on his championship dreams. His most athletic days were behind him. 8 years into his career and with MJ out of the league, Harper signed with the Bulls.
Dennis Rodman calls Ron Harper the Michael Jordan before MJ
Dennis Rodman joined him on the team the following year. The Worm has vivid memories of Harper’s play, having guarded him in the playoffs before. Rodman recollected those days on the Basketball Time Machine Podcast:
“The quiet assassin on that team was that one guy, Ron Harper. Nobody talks about him. He probably could’ve been the best player ever if he didn’t have that knee injury. He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan to me because he was good.”
Well, that’s the kind of heady, hyperbolic praise that ex-teammates reserve for their best mates. Harper may never have been a GOAT candidate like MJ, but he definitely could’ve been a multiple-time All-Star had he stayed fit.