Ronald “Ron” Harper (born January 20, 1964) is an American retired professional basketball player whose career spanned from 1986 to 2001 with four teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Harper was selected in the first round (eighth overall) in the 1986 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Harper made his NBA debut on November 1, 1986. He broke 30 points in just his sixth game, with 34 against the Sacramento Kings on November 11, 1986. He scored a season-high 40 points against the Boston Celtics on February 4, 1987 and had one of his finest all-around games on February 10, 1987 against the New York Knicks with 25 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and five steals.
Harper started all 82 games and averaged 22.9 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game (rpg) along with 4.8 assists and 2.5 steals. He placed second in Rookie of the Year balloting behind Chuck Person of the Indiana Pacers. In his fourth season, 1989–90, after seven games with the Cavaliers, on November 16, 1989 he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers.
By 1991–92, his sixth NBA season, he bounced back to start all 82 games, averaging 18.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.1 assists and 1.9 steals.
In 1992–93, in 80 games (77 as a starter), Harper averaged 18.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 assists and 2.2 steals. The Clippers again made the playoffs, but yet again Harper’s team was eliminated in the first round, this time three games to two by the Houston Rockets.
On September 15, 1994, Harper signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Bulls, who were rebuilding following the first retirement of Michael Jordan. Harper found his niche with the Bulls upon Jordan’s return, eventually becoming a fan favorite by reinventing himself as a big perimeter defender, ball handler, and mid-range scorer.
In his initial season in Chicago, 1994–95, Harper started 53 of the 77 games he played, although his minutes dipped to 19.9 per game and he averaged a then-career low of 6.9 ppg. For the first time in Harper’s career, his team advanced past the first round of the playoffs, as the Bulls defeated the Charlotte Hornets three games to one before falling to the Orlando Magic four games to two.
In 1996–97, he played in 76 games, starting 74 and averaging 6.3 ppg. The Bulls had another dominant regular season with a record of 69-13 as they defeated the Washington Bullets, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat in the first three rounds of the playoffs en route to winning their second consecutive NBA championship, this time four games to two over the Utah Jazz.
In 1997–98, Harper’s 12th NBA season, he started all 82 games for the Bulls, increasing his minutes per game to 27.9 and his scoring average to 9.3 ppg. The Bulls had a regular-season record of 62-20 as they defeated the New Jersey Nets, Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers in the first three rounds of the playoffs en route to winning their third consecutive NBA title, again four games to two over the Utah Jazz.
Harper played his final season with the Bulls during the lockout-shortened 1998–99 season. With the Bulls roster depleted due to the retirement of Michael Jordan, as well as the losses of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the Bulls floundered to a 13-37 record. Harper played 35 games, starting all of them. He finished second on the team with 11.2 ppg.
In five years with the Bulls, he averaged about 25 minutes per game, averaging between 6.3 and 11.2 ppg during those seasons.
After being released by the Bulls prior to the 1999–2000 season, on October 13, 1999, he signed a two-year contract as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers and his former Bulls coach, Phil Jackson.
The 2000–2001 season was Harper’s 15th and final NBA season. Injuries limited him to 47 games (starting 46). By season’s end, Derek Fisher had taken over the starting point guard slot, and Harper would only play in six games during the playoffs. The Lakers reached the Finals, where they faced the Philadelphia 76ers. Following the Sixers’ win in game 1, the Lakers won games 2 and 3. In game 4, Harper made crucial shots on the way to eight points, his best point total for the series. The Lakers won games 4 and game 5 to win their second straight NBA championship. It earned Harper his fifth NBA championship ring in a six-year span.
Career highlights and awards
5× NBA champion (1996–1998, 2000, 2001)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (1987)
Consensus second-team All-American (1986)
2× MAC Player of the Year (1985, 1986)
3× First-team All-MAC (1984–1986)
No. 34 retired by Miami University
Points 13,910 (13.8 ppg)
Assists 3,916 (3.9 apg)
Steals 1,716 (1.7 spg)
Representing United States
Silver medal – second place 1985 Kobe National team