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'Chicago Bulls of the 1990s is the best NBA team ever'

September 27, 2013 11:07 IST

'The initial years with Cavs weren't frustrating'



In his 15-year career, it took Ron Harper a decade to win his first NBA Championship.

When he called it quits he had five of them.

After initial years of struggle, Harper worked with legendary coach Phil Jackson and was a key player in five of his 11 championship-winning teams.

Of those, three came in successive years (1996-98) with Chicago Bulls, a team that he insists, is the ‘best ever.’

In an exclusive interview to Bikash Mohapatra, Harper goes back in time to talk about his career, Michael Jordan and why he wants to be like his illustrious coach.

The initial years with Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers... were they frustrating?

Cleveland was a great team.

It is just that we couldn’t beat either the Bulls or Detroit (Pistons). They were both great teams.

But I wouldn’t say those years with the Cavs were frustrating.

Image: Ron Harper
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra


'Winning the championships was one of the hardest things to achieve'

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By the time you joined Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan had retired. How difficult was that first year of transition?

It was more of a trial. It was about trying to know your knew teammates, trying to find the role you have to play in the team.

It was also about working hard, with each player trying to establish themselves at their respective positions.

It was hard but at the same time it was a good experience.

It took you 10 years to be part of a championship-winning franchisee…

When you are a kid growing up playing basketball it is your dream to win something big. As a child I dreamt of winning the championships, and to finally realise that dream was an unbelievable experience.

It was one of the hardest things to achieve and it took a lot of hard work. But we had a great team. 

Image: Ron Harper with cheerleaders
Photographs: Bikash Mohapatra

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'My first championships was definitely the most memorable one'

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Take us through that brilliant 1996 season…

It was just fun. That year we won everything.

It was a season in which MJ (Jordan) came back to the side (out of retirement). He worked hard to get into the groove and seeing him work hard inspired us to work harder.

We put in everything in that year. Besides, it was my first championships and definitely the most memorable one.

But, then, MJ said it’s his fourth and he wanted two more. When you think of it, to win one is so difficult but to win three in a row is unbelievable.

Image: Ron Harper of the Chicago Bulls
Photographs: Jonathan Daniel /Allsport
Tags: MJ , Jordan

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'Bulls side are the best in history'

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That Bulls team was one of the best in history… (Interrupts)

No, no, no, we were the best in history. Not one of the best, but the best!

How would you assess your time with the LA Lakers?

It was at the end of my career. They gave me chance to be a part of a very good team.  

It had Kobe (Bryant), Shaquille (O’Neal), Derek (Fisher), Devean (George) and Mark (Madsen). Then Horace (Grant) came in.

It’s an ultimate experience. 

Image: Ron Harper of the Chicago Bulls
Photographs: Elsa Hasch /Allsport

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'Phil was a great influence on me'

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All your five championship successes came with the same coach. How big an influence was Phil Jackson?

Phil was a great guy. He’s a great basketball coach.

He’s a great influence on me, on the way I prepared day in day out. It’s a great experience working with him.

You are a coach now. How much are you influenced by him?

I’d like to be like him. He had a belief in what he was doing. And he had a way of making his players believe in what he was doing. Besides, he had a big heart.

That’s a kind of coach I would like to be. 

Image: Ron Harper of the Los Angeles Lakers moves into position
Photographs: Jeff Gross /Allsport

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