Appreciating the Legacy of Derek Harper
By Isaac Harris
The Dallas Mavericks are retiring the number of Derek Harper in Dallas on Sunday evening and all Mavs fans should appreciate the legacy Harp has left in Dallas.
As you pull up to the American Airlines Center over the past couple of days leading up to January 7th, you would notice one big difference outside the arena.
Hanging on the side of the arena is a massive white banner with three pictures of Derek Harper honoring his legacy in Dallas.
With the 11th pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, the Dallas Mavericks selected a 6’4″ guard by the name of Derek Harper.
Little did they know, he would become one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Harper would spend his first couple of seasons in Dallas coming off the bench behind the only other jerseys hanging in the rafters in Brad Davis and Rolando Blackman. Harper experienced the playoffs during his first couple of years as the Mavericks lost in the first round and semi-finals in consecutive years.
In the 1985-86 season, Harper would start half of the season before becoming a full-time starter in the 1986-87 season alongside Rolando Blackman and Mark Aguirre. In the eyes of some fans, this was the formation of the first ‘big three’ in Dallas with Harper, Blackman, and Aguirre.
After making the playoffs in his first four seasons in the NBA and helping lead the Mavericks to 55 wins in the 1986-87 season, it was time for them to take the next step and they did in the 1987-88 season.
After finishing with 53 wins on the season, Dallas had put together their best overall team in franchise history with Harper leading the way at the point. In the first round, they put out Olajuwon and the Rockets 3-1. Next up was a 4-2 series win over Alex English, Fat Lever, and the Denver Nuggets.
Dallas was headed to the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the Lakers up 2-1 in the series, Harper put up one of the best games of his career in Game 4 to even up the series 2-2. Harper finished the game with 35 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds.
Harper and the Mavericks would take the star-studded Lakers to a seven-game series where James Worthy would put up 28 points and help lift the Lakers to the Finals.
This Conference Finals run would cap off an unbelievable five-year run (and start for Harper) for the Mavericks after spending the first three seasons in franchise history at the bottom of the league.
Even though Harper and the Mavericks would miss the playoffs the following year, they would return to the playoffs in the 1989-90 season where they would lose in the first round to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Harper would spend the next three and a half seasons in Dallas before heading to New York to help them in a playoff push of their own. He would return for one lone season in 1996 at 35 years old to play his last season in Dallas before playing his last couple of seasons of his career in Orlando and Los Angeles.
Among Mavs franchise leaders, he ranks fourth in points (12,597), first in assists (5,111), fourth in field goals (4,899), fifth in field goal attempts (10,454), fifth in 3-point field goals (705), fifth in 3-point field goal attempts (2,030), fourth in free throws (2,094), fourth in free throw attempts (2,804), first in steals (1,551), third in games played (872), third in starts (620) and third in minutes (27,985).
Harper played a total of 12 seasons (1983-94, 96-97) with Dallas in his 16 year NBA career. In 872 total games with the Mavs, he started 620 times and averaged 14.4 points, 5.7 assists while .468 shooting (4,899-10,454 FGs) from the field according to the team press release.
Today, on January 7, 2018, Harper is joining the likes of Blackman and Davis in the rafters as his #12 jersey is getting retired at halftime of the Knicks and Mavericks game in Dallas. Here is a detailed schedule of the ceremony.
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The first speaker, Mark Followill, is Harper’s broadcast partner with the Mavericks as Harper is in the middle of year seven calling Mavs games.
Dick Motta was the first Head Coach in franchise history and coached Harper through his first four seasons with the Mavericks. All seasons resulting in playoff trips for the Dallas Mavericks.
Mark Aguirre was a three-time All-Star as a Dallas Maverick and would spend seven and a half seasons in Dallas. He played five and a half seasons with Harper in Dallas.
Rolando Blackman was a four-time All-Star as a Dallas Maverick and would spend 12 seasons in Dallas. He played nine seasons with Harper in Dallas.
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It will be a special night in Dallas for Derek Harper and the Dallas Mavericks. It should also give us all an opportunity to look back and appreciate one of the first great players of the franchise.