NBA

Ron Harper Was an Elite Scorer Before Joining Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls

“The Last Dance” is documenting Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. While Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman are the main names a lot of people know, there were several other really good role players on that team. One of them was Ron Harper. While Harper only averaged over 10 points per game in a season once with the Bulls, he was an elite scorer before joining Jordan, Pippen, and company.

Ron Harper helped the Bulls win three championships

Ron Harper helped Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls win their second three-peat, as "The Last Dance" will show. He was an elite scorer before that, though.
Ron Harper playing in a game for the Chicago Bulls. | Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls signed guard Ron Harper in 1994. This came while Michael Jordan was still trying to have a baseball career. Harper struggled immensely in his first season with the Bulls, though. Jordan returned to basketball and to the Bulls during that season in March 1995, but Harper was even more confused, according to an article by the Associated Press in the Deseret News. 

“I didn’t complain last year,” Harper said in 1996, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I just knew I had to learn a lot. I know I’ve grown since last season. My attitude has changed. I know some players in this league probably couldn’t change the way they used to do things. I just wanted to be part of a championship team.”

Ron Harper

Harper ended up losing his starting job in 1994-95 and spent a lot of time on the bench, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, during the next three seasons, Harper was a key piece in a dynasty. Harper did not score a lot in those seasons with the Bulls, but he figured out what his role needed to be. His role was to help the Bulls become one of the most feared defensive teams in NBA history. 

The Bulls only allowed 92.9 points per game in 1995-96, 92.3 in 1996-97, and 89.6 in 1997-98. Each of those years they were one of the best defensive teams in the league. It worked too. The Bulls won the NBA championship each of those seasons, completing their second three-peat of the decade. 

Jordan knew how valuable Harper and his defense were too. “Cleveland, to this day, would have had better success if they would have kept Ron Harper,″ Jordan said of Harper, according to the Associated Press, in 1996 who had previously played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Because he was one of the guys who gave me the most problems in the Eastern Conference.″

Winning two more rings outside of Chicago

The Bulls essentially called it quits following the 1997-98 season. Jordan retired and Pippen was traded. Harper, on the other hand, played in Chicago for one more season.

During a lockout-shortened season, Harper had a larger role on that 1998-99 Bulls team. He scored 11.2 points per game in 35 games that season. That came after he never scored more than 9.3 points per game during his first four seasons with the Bulls.

However, Harper played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1999-2000 and the 2000-01 seasons. After helping the Bulls win three championships, he helped the Lakers win two of their three straight championships in those seasons.

Despite his struggles during his first season in Chicago, Harper ultimately learned how to help teams win championships. 

Being an elite scorer before joining the Bulls

The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Ron Harper with the eighth overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft. Harper was a star with the Cavaliers. He ultimately earned All-Rookie honors in 1986-97 after scoring 22.9 points per game. Harper played the next two full seasons with the Cavaliers, and part of the 1989-90 season, and continued to score at a high level. He ultimately averaged 19.4 points per game during his time in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers traded Harper to the Los Angeles Clippers during the 1989-90 season. Despite a knee injury cutting that season, as well as the next season, short, according to Cleveland.com, Harper was still great at scoring for the Clippers. Playing in 75 or more games each of the next three seasons with the Clippers, Harper averaged 18 points per game or more each of those years. He even averaged 20.1 points per game during the 1993-94 season.

Then the year after that, though, Harper joined the Bulls. His points-per-game average went from over 20 points in 1993-94 to only 6.9 points in 1994-95. Harper averaged 19.3 points per game during his time with the Clippers. He only averaged 7.9 points per game during his five seasons with the Bulls and 6.8 points per game in his two seasons with the Lakers.

Ron Harper was a big reason the Bulls completed their second three-peat. “The Last Dance” will prove that. He was, however, one of the best scorers in the league before changing his role completely while playing with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.