Years before he joined Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, Ron Harper was a member of the up-and-coming Cleveland Cavaliers squad.
Before he joined the Chicago Bulls in the mid-90s, Ron Harper was a potent scoring guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. Before that, he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers team that fell victim to Michael Jordan’s “The Shot.” While it is true that they got beaten by the GOAT, Harper believes that if he had been given a chance to stay longer in Cleveland, then Jordan’s legacy would’ve been different.
The Bulls and the Cavaliers faced in the first round of the 1988 and 1989 playoffs. On both occasions, the Bulls beat them 3-2. In Game 5 of their 1989 duel, Jordan hit “The Shot” on Craig Ehlo, which sent the Cavaliers packing.
The popular side of history is that the game put Jordan on the map. On the flip side, it was a heartbreaker for the Cavaliers, who had just finished third in the regular season, a major improvement from their sixth-place finish the season before. This showed that the team was on a steady path to success. If they had been given more time — if Harper stayed — then there’s a good chance the Cavs get stronger year after year. This was a conversation that Harper and Jordan had.
“Me and M.J. talked about this all the time,” said Harper. “He says, ‘If they didn’t trade you, who knows how good that (Cavs) team would have been? I said, ‘If they didn’t trade me, I’d have one or two of your six rings,’” Harper said, per the Chicago Tribune.
Harper returned to the Cavaliers only for seven games in the 1989-90 season. Due to suspected drug links — none of which have been proven — the Cavaliers opted to let their scoring guard go. The results were immediate. The Cavaliers finished seventh in the East and got booted out in the first round again.
While they picked up the pieces and became a top Eastern team two years after the fiasco, Jordan’s Bulls were already way ahead of the curve. They got beaten by the Bulls in the 1992 Conference Finals, the 1993 Conference Semifinals, and the 1993 First Round.
Ron Harper’s greatest talent
The Cavaliers’ potential and tenacity are the qualities that Harper is clinging to. What made Harper great is how he tweaked his role from a potent scorer with the Cavaliers and Clippers to a role player tasked to defend and score occasionally for the Bulls. If he had stayed with the Cavaliers, Harper would’ve figured out how to adjust his game to oust Jordan’s Bulls.
“I think we would have won more than one ring. We would have had to beat Chicago; we would have had to beat Detroit, we would have had to beat the [Boston] Celtics,” Harper said, per cleveland.com. “There were a few teams we would have had to play against, but I felt that we were young enough and naive [enough] to feel that we were that good.”
For obvious reasons, we’ll never know if Harper’s Cavaliers would’ve curtailed Jordan’s rise if they had kept the team together. Harper was one of the unsung heroes of the Bulls dynasty. His legacy has been established. Whether or not he stayed with the Cavaliers, he’ll forever be regarded as one heck of a baller.