Ron Harper was the key to the ‘Team of the 90’s’
As Danny Ferry contemplates moves that could potentially extended the LeBron James era in Cleveland, it is Ferry who was the key figure in a trade that broke up the Cavaliers’ championship-caliber nucleus.
Cleveland was poised for years of dominance with its 1986 draft day windfall. They grabbed center Brad Daugherty with the first overall pick, Ron Harper with eight overall pick and they traded for Mark Price, who was selected by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round.
The Cavs also had Hot Rod Williams and veteran Larry Nance on their young roster, which Magic Johnson dubbed them “the team of the ‘90s.”
With one of the youngest squads in the NBA, the Cavs finished the 1988-89 season with a 57-25 record, which was good enough for enough for second place in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division and a third straight trip to the playoffs.
However then-Cavs owner Gordon Gund becoming increasingly disenchanted with Ron Harper particularly his choice of off-the-court friends, while general manager Wayne Embry became infatuated with Ferry.
On Nov. 16, 1989 Harper, a Dayton Kiser High School and Miami University product, was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers for the rights to Ferry, Reggie Williams and two first round draft picks.
Ferry was playing in Italy at the time to avoid joining the Clippers. He did not join the Cavs until 1990-91 season only to ride coach Lenny Wilkins bench. Ferry overcame numerous injuries and finally became a role player once Mike Fratello took over as coach.
Harper suffered a knee injury just two months after his arrival in Los Angeles. The injury hampered Harper’s speed and jumping ability.
In 1994, he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bulls following Michael Jordan’s first retirement. He weathered the first season sans Jordan and became known for his defensive capabilities. Once Air Jordan returned from his failed minor league baseball career, Harper was a part of a squad that won three NBA championships. He became the Bulls’ third scoring option and a fan favorite in the Windy City.
Harper returned to Los Angeles in 1999, this time with the Lakers and coach Phil Jackson to win two more NBA titles.
He retired following 2000-01 season long after any of the other young players that made up nucleus of the Cavs from the mid-1980s.