No one from Cavs wanted to trade Ron Harper ... except the man whose opinion mattered most
Michael Jordan is credited for breaking the spirit and will of countless players and coaches he left littered in his wake during his spectacular NBA career.
As reintroduced to the basketball world by the broadcast of ESPN's acclaimed "The Last Dance," Jordan and his supporting casts on the Chicago Bulls are also credited with breaking the collective backs of several franchises during his reign of destruction, including the then-defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons, the New York Knicks, the Indiana Pacers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Seattle SuperSonics, the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz.
However, thanks in no small part to the dramatics and the legend of The Shot, Jordan's jumper over a flailing Craig Ehlo at the buzzer in a decisive Game 5 of a 1989 playoff series at the Richfield Coliseum, no team is more identified as being broken by Jordan than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were eliminated from the playoffs by the Jordan-led Bulls in 1988, 1989, 1992 and 1993.
All of that having been said, many associated with the Cavaliers during Jordan's era -- while never taking away from Jordan's greatness nor his countless accomplishments -- point the finger of the demise of that era of Cleveland's teams not at Jordan, but elsewhere.
Namely, the trade of Ron Harper.
On Nov. 15, 1989, one night after the Cavaliers shellacked the Golden State Warriors, 129-104, the basketball world was put on tilt when Cleveland dealt Harper, along with a first- and second-round draft picks in 1991 and a first-round pick in 1992 to the Los Angeles Clippers for former Duke great Danny Ferry and forward Reggie Williams.
At the time of the shocking swap, Harper -- a 25-year-old 6-foot-6 greyhound of a shooting guard -- was averaging 22.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.0 steals an 1.3 blocked shots in 37.4 minutes in Cleveland's first seven games.
Ferry, who refused to sign with the sad-sack Clippers, had opted to play professionally in Italy.
Williams was averaging 12.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.8 steals in 26.6 minutes in five games with the Clippers.
Needless to say, the reaction across the NBA was one of shock. In Ohio, where basketball fans had watched Harper star first at Miami of Ohio and after being selected with the eighth overall pick as part of of Cleveland's stellar 1986 draft, in Cleveland with the Cavaliers, the reaction was one of fury.
Most of it directed, fairly or not, at Cavaliers general manager Wayne Embry.
To this day, Embry takes responsibility for The Trade, as he pointed out in his 2004 book with the Plain Dealer's Mary Schmitt Boyer, "The Inside Game: Race, Power and Politics in the NBA."
Turns out, there's more to the story. Much more, though Embry has continued to fall on his sword.
Embry, who served as Cleveland's GM from June 19, 1986 to June 1, 1999 (being named NBA Executive of the Year twice) and is still in the game in an advisory role with the defending champion Toronto Raptors, devoted an entire chapter in his 2004 book to what went down with shipping Harper out, which he aptly titled simply, "The Trade."
He described receiving calls from Horace Balmer, the NBA's head of security, about Harper. He had been seen at night spots socializing with individuals who were suspected of being drug traffickers. Balmer informed Embry that those seen with Harper were under surveillance by law enforcement. Further, the Drug Enforcement Agency wanted to interview Harper in an effort to extract information on one of his friends, specifically.
Embry (in his book): "Balmer told me they wanted to talk to Ron about a friend of his from Dayton who had been under surveillance for drug trafficking. He told me Ron was not the focus of the investigation, but he suggested I tell Ron to pull away from his friends."
Harper, in the 1994 book, "CAVS: From Fitch to Fratello," by Joe Menzer of the News-Herald and Burt Graeff of the Plain Dealer, said such a "suggestion" did indeed take place. "I didn't give a (crap). I didn't pay them no mind," he said. "I told them I was old enough to judge my friends and choose who my friends were. I told them they should choose their own friends, mind their own damn business, and stay out of my personal business."
The Cavaliers as a franchise had seen three high-profile incidents involving drugs in Northeast Ohio in recent years.
Rugged Cleveland Browns safety Don Rogers died of a heart attack caused by a cocaine overdose June 27, 1986, the day before his wedding. He was 23 years old. Rogers' death came only eight days after Len Bias, the No. 2 overall pick of the 1986 NBA Draft — behind, ironically, Harper's Cleveland teammate, Brad Daugherty — died of cocaine abuse.
Almost three years to the day of Rogers' death, Browns running back Kevin Mack was arrested allegedly trying to make a drug deal involving a "large amount of cocaine and crack cocaine," according to Cleveland police.
Then, in July 1990, Cleveland State basketball coach Kevin Mackey, who guided the Vikings on a Cinderella run to the regional semifinals of the 1986 NCAA Tournament and then began the substance abuse that would eventually ruin his career. Mackey, then 43, had been at Cleveland State eight years and signed a two-year contract July 11, two days before he was arrested outside a suspected drug house on the city's east side.
Then-Cavaliers coach Lenny Wilkens talked extensively about the entire situation regarding Harper in his 2000 book, "Unguarded," with renowned writer Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer.
"I remember talking about Harper to a guy who was working in private security. 'Did you ever see him sell drugs?' I asked. 'No,' he said. 'Did you ever see him use drugs?' I asked. 'No,' he said. 'So you saw him at this nightclub, but you saw some other athletes there, too, right?' I asked. 'Yes,' he said.
"'So we're really talking about guilt by association," Wilkens wrote. "Ron knows the guy who owns the club, and the guy is suspected of dealing drugs, or hanging out with drug dealers, right? It's just guilt by association?'"
"'It is,' he said. 'But we have reason to believe...'"
Though neither Embry nor Wilkens believed Harper was using drugs, those rumors, which history has proven to be completely false, continued to swirl.
Embry (in his book): "I got a call from a local security officer asking to meet with Lenny and me as soon as possible. After that morning's practice, we drove to the airport hotel for a lunch meeting. It was more of the same. Another friend of Ron's who lived in Cleveland was under investigation. He advised us to convince Ron to stay away because an arrest was coming any day."
It was after that meeting the feeling of the inevitable began to hit Embry.
Embry (in his book): "Driving back to the Coliseum, Lenny and I discussed our options. He was committed to continue talking to Ron, hoping he would understand the gravity of the situation. I told him I had to start thinking about trading Harper, something none of us wanted to do."
Harper never wavered. When confronted with the news rumors persisted, Harper even volunteered to take a drug test in an effort to remove any suspicion. Meanwhile, Embry and Wilkens continued to urge Harper to distance himself from the men in question, hoping things would cool off.
Then, Balmer called Embry again.
Embry (in his book), said Balmer relayed the following -- "'Wayne, I know you don't want to hear any more about Harper, but I have to tell you he is going to be subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury on Dec. 19. Let's keep our fingers crossed. This is still about his friends."
Harper remained steadfast in his beliefs.
"Wayne had his ideals, and I had mine," he told Russ Bengston of Slam magazine July 2, 2012. "I was a young kid who came to play every night. You could see all my stats — I was in the top five in scoring, I was in the top-five rebounding guards, I was top-three in steals, I played more minutes than any first-year guy.
"Wayne said, 'You need to go home and go to bed more.' I said, 'Well, if my stats show my being the same basketball player, what’s wrong?'"
Harper elaborated in "CAVS: From Fitch to Fratello" -- "I was a 21-year-old kid when I got into the NBA. What is a 21-year-old kid going to do? Sit at home and watch TV? I didn't see nothing wrong with going out and hanging out. But the places I was going were not the places they thought I was going."
It was at that point, Embry began looking into trade possibilities for Harper, talking with the Clippers about Ferry.
Embry (in his book) -- "I was intrigued (with Ferry), but I was still going we would not have to make a trade. I really hoped could ride this out, and it would go away.
"I should've known better."
Coming to a head
According to all accounts, Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund and his brother, George, came to town a couple of days later for a meeting with Embry and Wilkens. Team attorney Dick Watson was taking part via telephone, according to Embry. Cavaliers player personnel director Gary Fitzsimmons was also in attendance, according to Wilkens, as was Balmer, according to "From Fitch to Fratello."
Balmer, according to "From Fitch to Fratello" -- "The DEA has just informed us that Ronnie is associating with known drug dealers. They believe his car has been used in at least one deal that they know of. They believe he has given money to these guys."
Embry (in his book) -- "The Clippers were serious about obtaining Ron and against my better judgement, I recommended we trade him."
He then revealed the entire situation had begun to eat at him.
"There still had not been one shred of evidence implicating Ron in drug use, but I was tired of distractions," Embry said. "Ron was a likable guy, and a good leader, and I was worried some of our younger players might want to follow in his footsteps.
"We knew one of Ron's friends who frequented our games was being investigated. I did not want anybody who was involved with anyone who was around drugs to be anywhere near our players. I did not want law enforcement agencies constantly snooping around. Neither did the league."
According to "From Fitch to Fratello," after Balmer told the group about the latest rumors about Harper's friends, his car and money, Balmer left the room and Gordon Gund spoke next.
"I want him the F - - - off my team -- NOW!" the owner emphatically said.
Wilkens later admitted to others what surprised him the most at that moment was Gund's use of profanity. He had never heard Gund curse.
"What did you say?" Wilkens asked.
"I want him off the F - - - off my team -- NOW!" Gund repeated.
Embry's account of that moment was a bit different, especially after he said he recommended the Cavaliers trade Harper.
Embry (from his book) -- "Gordon turned to Lenny and said, 'Lenny, none of us want to move him. Do you think you can turn him around?' Lenny whispered, 'I don't want to, but we have to move him.'"
Wilkens (from his book), on how the conversation went:
"This is about Harper," Gund. said. "We got to get rid of him."
"I' really don't want to trade Ron,' I said, repeating what I had already mentioned to them before when the rumors arose."
"'I want the SOB out of here,' Gund screamed, and that shocked me. I had never heard Gordon yell like that. He also dropped in an obscenity into the sentence, and I'd never heard him swear. I had never seen him so agitated.
"Even Gund seemed a bit stunned because he was quiet for a moment, the silence hanging over the room.
"'Listen,' he said. 'If you guys don't make the trade, I'll make the trade.'
"Then, he stared hard at me. Remember, Gund is blind. But he also makes a point of knowing where everyone sits in a room, so he can look right at them as he talks.
"'Gordon,' I said. "'It's your team. You can do what you want. But I'm the coach, and it's my job to win games. Ron helps us -- '
"'Can you guarantee that he'll change?' Gund said, interrupting me.
"'First of all, I don't understand all that,' I said. 'Secondly, only God can change people, and I don't know that Ron is that bad.'
"'Well, I'll handle it,' he said.
"'It's your team,' I said. 'If you feel that's what you have to do, then you have to do it.' That ended the conversation."
Embry said in his book it was after Wilkens whispered, "I don't want to, but we have to move him," that Gund went off.
"That was all Gordon needed," he wrote. "'GET HIM OUT OF HERE!' he roared, his voice loud enough to be heard throughout our offices."
After Gund's eruption, from "From Fitch to Fratello" -- "Then Gund turned to Embry and added, 'Make the best deal you can make as quickly as possible. I want him out of here certainly within a week."
"After Gordon and George left, Lenny and I sat and agonized," Embry wrote.
From "From Fitch to Fratello" -- "Embry drove Wilkens home from the airport. During the drive, the GM convinced the coach of the perceived need to move Harper and of Gund's unwavering intention to do so. Wilkens agreed it was for the best."
Soul-searching for Embry
Even after the emotion-packed meeting, Embry was still not convinced trading Harper was a done deal.
"That night, I went home and agonized some more," he wrote in his book. "I had many sleepless nights in my career, and this would be another. It really was a 24-hour-a-day job."
Embry said he reached out to a trusted source.
"I had not told any of our scouts, but it was time to talk to one of them. Darrell Hedric, who had recruited Ron to Miami, where he had coached him for two years," he wrote. "Darrell said it would be hard for him to believe Ron would have anything to do with using drugs.
"He told me what I already new: Ron loved to play the game, and he would not do anything to jeopardize being the best player he could be."
It was at that point Embry, perhaps made gun-shy by the aforementioned drug busts of Kevin Mackey and Kevin Mack and the tragic, drug-induced deaths of Don Rogers and Len Bias, came to the realization of which direction the franchise would take.
"I continued talking to Gordon and the Clippers," he wrote. "It was important to protect the integrity of the franchise, one we hoped was going to be a contender in the Eastern Conference for years to come."
The uncertainty of the entire situation finally became more than what the franchise was willing to chance, Embry said.
"We did not know if anything would ever come out of the investigations," he wrote. "But none of us wanted to be in the position of having to decide whether to tell an owner or general manager about the probes or withhold information, which none of us could do in good conscience."
Here's the crux of what direction the Cavaliers opted to head.
"If something did break and Ron was implicated, we were afraid his value would go down, regardless of his innocence," Embry wrote. "This was one of those cases in which perception could become reality."
Word gets out
Harper heard about the rumored trade to the Clippers two days before it happened, according to "From Fitch to Fratello," with teammate Randolph Keyes reading it in the column of the great Peter Vescey of the New York Post while they, along with teammate Tree Rollins, were dining in a restaurant close to the team hotel on the morning of a game at New Jersey.
At the Cavaliers' shootaround, Harper showed up wearing his team gear inside-out, "in a protest."
While Harper joked about the trade rumors, he believed them to be true. While he and his teammates laughed, Wilkens did not, pulling Harper aside for a lengthy conversation.
"No matter what happens, you'll still be playing in the NBA," Wilkens told Harper. "Don't worry about some of the things that are being said about you. Just go out and play."
Harper was not impressed.
"Yeah, well, I'm still going to keep wearing this (crap) the wrong way until I see what happens," he said.
That night, Harper scored 22 points and added 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocked shots in leading the Cavaliers to a 103-92 whipping of the Nets.
Harper played a team-high 40 minutes, six more than his next teammate (34 by the late John "Hot Rod" Williams).
The next night, after Harper posted 18 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and a steal in 31 minutes in the blowout win over Golden State at the Coliseum, the Cavaliers called a press conference to announce they had shipped Harper, along with a first- and second-round draft picks in 1991 and a first-round pick in 1992, to the Clippers for former Ferry and Williams.
For the record
No drug charges were ever filed against Harper.
According to "From Fitch to Fratello," when it came to those with whom the league and the Cavaliers had issue with him spending time, Harper did testify in front of a grand jury in his hometown of Dayton about the $18,000 he lent to childhood friend Mark Jones in 1988.
Harper and Jones both said that money was to assist Jones in opening a popular nightclub named "Draymond's" in Dayton.
The federal grand jury indicted Jones on one count of "knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully attempting to possess with attempt to distribute in excess of 500 grams of cocaine."
Jones was never convicted.
Matters of fact
Harper's agent, the respected Mark Termini, said Harper was the victim of rumors and hearsay.
"No one ever made those allegations directly," he said. "If anybody had made them formally, there would have been a libel or a slander action sent forth.
"In regards to any rumors there were about anything amiss with Ron, I think time has proven how unfounded any of those things were. I don't recall anyone ever putting a name behind any of the accusations. And I think that tells you what substance the rumors had."
Termini, now of Klutch Sports, doubled down.
"I think Ron got a bad rap," he said. "Any speculation to that effect about why Ron got traded has been very unfair to Ron.
"I think time has proven that out."
Harper believed issues between him and Embry were what led to him being traded.
"Thinking back, I'm sure that our very first (contract) negotiation played a role in why Wayne never liked me and eventually got rid of me," he later said. "I was young and arrogant. If I didn't like something, I came right out and said so.
"I wasn't afraid to tell them to F - - - off. Wayne and I did not get off on the right foot, and nothing ever changed."
Of course, The Trade -- and the Cavaliers -- were ripped from pillar to post for moving Harper, including internally among the Cleveland players. Its effects were devastating, almost immediately.
"When I woke up (the morning after The Trade), I found that the newspapers had killed us," Embry wrote. "The television guys killed us. The radio guys killed us.
"Fans were angry."
According to "From Fitch to Fratello," the morning after The Trade, Cavaliers Ehlo and Steve Kerr arrived at the team's practice court on Loge Level II of the Coliseum and were surprised to find Wilkens already there.
Upon the arrival of the players, the coach did not even look up, instead sitting with his head in his hands.
"I thought he was sick," Kerr said.
Ehlo took it even a step further.
"I thought maybe a family member had died," he said. "That's how bad he looked. We said, 'Coach, are you all right? Is everything OK?'
"And when he looked up at us, it was like his face had lost a lot of its color."
While Wilkens went along with the team's decision to trade Harper and did not criticize the move publicly in presenting a united front, it was clear once reality set in, the reservations and objections he had voiced at the meeting with Gund became were never a secret and, in fact, have become well known, especially as "The Last Dance" is airing.
"Ron was an integral part of that team," Wilkens said. "It cost us a chance to beat Chicago.
"I was upset we traded Ron Harper. The players liked Ron. When he'd walk into the locker room, it lit up. We had a chance (to win a championship). The pieces fit. They all complemented each other."
After the 57-win season that came to an end on The Shot, ravaged by injury and The Trade, the Cavaliers slumped to 42-40 in that 1989-90 season, bowing in the first-round of the playoffs to the physical Philadelphia 76ers, led by the rugged Charles Barkley the hot-shooting Hersey Hawkins in a decisive Game 5 in Philadelphia, 113-97. Cleveland was pushed around by Barkley and Rick Mahorn, its former nemesis while playing for the Pistons.
Asked after Game 5 if The Trade played a part in the outcome of that series, respected veteran forward Larry Nance answered with a question of his own.
"How many games did we win last year?" he said. "How many did we win this year?"
The answers were 57 and 42, respectively.
Embry remained steadfast in his belief the Cavaliers would bounce back from the effects The Trade had on the organization.
"When we made a decision to trade Ron Harper, we realized it would be a decision that not all people would agree with," he said in January of that season. "I would be lying if I said we didn't miss him, but I think we will overcome it."
After an awful 1990-91 season, when ravaged by injuries, including a torn ACL of All-Star point guard Mark Price, to their credit, the core group of those Cavalier teams -- Daugherty, Nance, Mark Price, Ehlo and Williams with Wilkens as coach -- bounced back in 1991-92 to record another 57-win season.
For a change, Cleveland did not have to match up with Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. The Cavaliers disposed of the Nets in four games in the first round, then faced the Boston Celtics in the second round.
Boston was still sporting its Hall of Fame frontcourt of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, but it was on its last legs. Even with Bird plagued by a back injury that would end his NBA career, the Celtics pushed the Cavaliers to a Game 7, but Cleveland blew out Boston before a wild crowd at the Coliseum, 122-104, in what would indeed be the last NBA game in which the legendary Bird played.
That set up another clash with Jordan & Co., this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. By this time, the Bulls were already the monster they became, having won the first of their six NBA titles the season before.
The Cavaliers fought valiantly, splitting the first four games, by were eventually eliminated in six. Jordan, who had shot 5 of 20 through three quarters in Game 6, scored 16 of his 29 points in the final quarter, including a three-point play with less than a minute remaining to pave the way to a series-clinching 99-94 victory.
Jordan & Co. then went on to defeat Portland in six games to win its second-straight NBA title.
Meanwhile, despite the terrific season, the specter of The Trade still hung over Cavalier franchise.
It would never leave.
When Jordan hit another buzzer-beater for a 103-101 win to complete a four-game sweep of a 54-win Cleveland team the following season, it only served as one final reminder.
"We thought, one through 12, we were better than the Bulls,” Embry said. “But part of what defines greatness is having the ability to make other players better."
What about Jordan, though?
"OK, two through 12," he laughed. (Greatness) manifests itself in different ways, and that’s what Michael did with those Bulls.”
Through the years, many have contemplated what could have happened if the Cavaliers had chosen to stick by Harper instead of trading him.
After all, nothing ever came of the rumors and after overcoming blowing out his knee with the Clippers, Harper returned to form in being a 20-point scorer.
Ironically, he eventually wound up as Jordan's team in Chicago, where he would win three NBA championship rings and add two more when he followed Bulls coach Phil Jackson when he took over the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O'Neal Los Angeles Lakers.
Harper is matter of fact about what could have been in Cleveland.
"Me and MJ talked about this all time," he told the Chicago Tribune of talks between him and Jordan. "He says, 'If they didn't trade you, who knows how good that team would have been?' I said, 'If they didn't trade me, I'd have one or two of your six rings.'"
He took it even to another level in talking to Bill Lubinger of the Plain Dealer in 2010.
“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. "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.”
Price is not one to disagree.
“The next season, we traded Ron (for the draft rights to Danny Ferry), and that hurt us,” he recently told our Sam Amico. “I felt like other than the Lakers, and maybe the Pistons with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, we had the best backcourt in the league.”
Daugherty, whose career in which he made five All-Star Games and averaged 19.0 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in eight seasons, retiring as the franchise's leader in points, rebounds and assists in 1996 because of back issues, didn't mince words.
“When we traded Ron Harper, that’s what broke our backs," he told the Plain Dealer in 2007. "That was the missing link. That’s what we needed. When we traded (Harper), that’s what broke our backs. We never recovered from that. We never could."
Daugherty was still adamant about The Trade and its effects months before the Cavaliers met the Bulls in the 1992 Eastern Conference Finals.
"They dismantled that team," he told Sports Illustrated in January of that season. "And we're still trying to fit the pieces together."
While Jordan tormented Cleveland before The Trade, the gifted Harper presented a much-greater challenge to Jordan on the defensive end of the court than anyone that followed Harper, which included Ehlo, John Battle and Gerald Wilkins.
"I always told my teammates, 'MJ gonna score 32-35, and I’ll be within 10 points,'" in the interview with Slam magazine. "'So I need one of you guys to outscore his teammates.'"
“I was upset,” Wilkens said. “We were a good team and we were going to get better, and Ron was an important part of that. It wasn’t a very good trade and I let them know, but I was overruled.”
Ehlo, the man who will go down in history as the guy flailing to the Coliseum court as Jordan celebrated hitting The Shot in 1989, believes that play had a monstrous effect on the Cleveland franchise.
“If he misses … I thoroughly believe there would’ve been at least one championship out of that,” he said. “But that did something to us. We still were a good team. We played them again in the (playoffs). It didn’t take our confidence away, but it was like, ‘Can we ever get by this guy?’”
Certainly not without Harper giving Jordan fits on the defensive side of the court.
Even the soft-spoken Williams, who was claimed by cancer Dec. 15, 2015 at age 53, was to the point about The Trade.
"They made a big trade. I didn’t like the trade, but they made a big trade and dealt Ron Harper for Danny Ferry," he said before his death. "And you’ve got Larry Nance and me playing forward. Where is (Ferry) going to play with both of us there? One of us had to go to the bench.
"I think that was one of the worst things we could’ve done was trade Ron Harper. The thing is, when we did play Chicago, Ron Harper maybe couldn’t stop Jordan, but Jordan couldn’t stop Harper, either. Jordan might’ve had 40, but Ron could get 30. And Jordan had to work.
"It was just different when he had to guard Ehlo or Gerald Wilkins. He didn’t have to work as hard, and that made a big difference in the game."
"Michael Jordan was a great player," he said. "But in my opinion, if we had kept Ron Harper, we would have gotten by them (in the playoffs)."
The coach, who resigned days after Jordan's second buzz-beating jumper, this time over the outstretched arm of Wilkins, in the 1993 playoffs, went even deeper during a recent interview on SiriusXM NBA radio.
"I never got over that," he said.
The opposition position
It wasn't just the Cleveland franchise that never forgot The Trade.
Former Cavalier Kerr, by then with the Bulls, to the Chicago Tribune in 1995:
"They had a great team for a few years and Michael kept shooting them down every year. That's what everyone in Cleveland talks about -- they peaked at the wrong time," he said. "Had that same team been playing right now, they'd probably be favorites to win the whole thing. But they picked the wrong era, I guess, to have their long run."
Then-Rockets coach Don Cheney in 1990:
“In the transition game, (Harper is) as good as Michael Jordan,” he said. “And that’s not an understatement. He can do everything Michael can do in that phase of the game -- handle the ball, run and dunk, and be quick enough to pull up for the jumper or go by the defender on a drive.”
The effect of Jordan not having to spend the energy to defend Harper continues to be a focal point of discussion about The Trade.
"Michael [Jordan] always said that was the best thing that ever happened to him was when we got rid of Ron," Daugherty said.
And Jordan agreed.
“Cleveland, to this day, would have had better success if they would have kept Ron Harper, because he was one of the guys who gave me the most problems in the Eastern Conference," he said.
Jackson in Sam Smith's "There is No Next: NBA Legends on the Legacy of Michael Jordan" on the Jordan era-Cavaliers:
"(The) best team that never won."
The last word(s)
It seems only apt it is left to guys who played the lead roles in The Trade to have the final says.
"I probably have been asked about that trade almost every day since and, believe me, I have asked myself about it, too,” Embry wrote. “It has been a true test of my convictions.”
He admits to having his own thoughts of, "what if?"
"Yes, I always will wonder what (would have) happened if we had not traded Harper -- one way or another," Embry wrote. "He may have separated himself from the friends whose lifestyles we did not want around our team.
"Ron went on to join the Bulls and, later the Lakers and became an important part of their dynasties.
"I was happy he was so successful."
Despite all his successes, Harper has never forgotten being sent out of Cleveland.
"They traded because they didn't like my friends," the told Pluto, then with the Akron Beacon Journal.
“I was so mad. But I wasn’t mad at the guys on our basketball team. I wasn’t mad at the head coach," he told the Plain Dealer. "Me and them, we were always on the same page.
"I was mad at the Cleveland Cavs, but, then again, it’s a business, and so they thought they made the right move, and I had to move on.”
The Cavaliers -- who led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and coached by Tyronn Lue won their first and still only NBA championship in 2016 -- did indeed move on.
So did Harper.
In September 2006, Kiser Elementary School named its gymnasium after Harper, who had starred on Kiser's high school teams before he headed to Miami of Ohio.
Former Kiser athletic director Wayne Hounshell presented Harper's framed No. 34 Kiser jersey so it could be put on display in the school's trophy case.
“It's been in my closet for 24 years," Hounshell said, according to the Dayton Daily News.
The emotional Harper shook hands with every student and promised all of them with a perfect attendance record tickets to an NBA game.
"I won five NBA championship rings, but this means far more than that because this is where it all started," Harper told the crowd the newly named Ron Harper Gymnasium. "Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do in life. Right here is where I started chasing my dream.”
Colton Jones is a regular contributor to AmicoHoops.net and SI.com. Follow him @CJonesHoops.