One local product had his JR Smith moment in postseason 34 years ago

Cavaliers guard JR Smith’s meltdown in the final seconds of regulation in Thursday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be a part of his legacy.

But one former NBA star was able to overcome the same blunder much earlier in his career.

Derek Harper, who was raised in West Palm Beach and starred at North Shore High School, had a similar experience during the 1984 Western Conference semifinals while a rookie for the Dallas Mavericks. Harper shook off the mistake and went on to play 16 solid seasons in the NBA, including 12 with the Mavericks, who retired Harper’s No. 12 jersey this past season.

Derek Harper speaks before his #12 jersey is retired by the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center on January 7, 2018 in Dallas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Harper, an 11th overall pick out of Illinois in 1983, was on the court for the final seconds of Game 4 of the 1984 Western Conference semifinals against the Lakers. The score was tied at 108 when Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar missed a shot with 12 seconds to play. The ball eventually went to Harper with about six seconds remaining.

Thinking Dallas had the lead, Harper stood near midcourt and dribbled out the clock with Magic Johnson loosely guarding him.

The Lakers took control in overtime, winning 122-115 to take a 3-1 series lead. L.A. closed out the Mavericks in five games.

“Yeah, I saw J.R.’s mistake. Of course you feel for him,” Harper told the New York Post Friday. “You (feel bad) even though we live in a society that pushes you to fail more than succeed nowadays because of social media. People want controversy, whether it’s at somebody else’s cost or not. So of course you feel sorry for the guy. It’s human error when you think about it, and we’ve all experienced human error. It’s just not exposed in front of millions and millions of people watching an NBA Finals game.”

Lakers general manager Jerry West called it “one of the strangest, most bizarre things I’ve ever seen,” during an interview before the next game.

“When he kept dribbling, I had to look at the scoreboard to make sure of the score,” West said. “Everything crosses your mind in a situation like that, so I was wondering if he wanted the game to go into overtime and, if so, why. … It was a good break for us.”

West added, “I just hope it doesn’t have a lasting effect on Harper’s career. He does a nice job for Dallas.”

It didn’t. Harper had a solid career averaging 15.2 points, 6.3 assists and twice being voted to the All-Defensive second team. From 1987-88 to 1992-93 Harper started all but three games and averaged 18.0 points and 6.8 points.

“I was (a rookie) at the time and it was an honest mistake,” Harper told the New York Post. “The question becomes how you rebound from it.

“You’re always supposed to know the time and the score. I’ve been hearing that since I was 5 years old, but people have mental lapses. The repercussion is for everybody to go crazy and talk about how bad the play was and ‘What were you thinking?’ You could look at (LeBron James’) reaction to see how he felt about it.

Smith rebounded teammate George Hill’s missed free throw with less than five seconds remaining in Thursday’s Game 1 and the score tied at 107. He dribbled to halfcourt before realizing Cleveland was not leading. By that time it was too late as he tried to get the ball to Hill for a desperation shot.

Like the Mavericks in 1984, the Cavaliers wilted in overtime, losing 124-114.

But unlike Harper, Smith did not admit to his mistake. He said he knew the score and dribbled toward halfcourt looking for an opening for a shot. But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said that Smith thought the Cavaliers were leading.

“That’s the wrong way to go about it. When you make a mistake, you own the mistake and move on,” Harper said. “The only thing that will set you free is to be open and honest. I don’t know how else to say it.”

Heat president Pat Riley was coach of the Lakers at that time. Harper later joined up with Riley in New York and was Riley’s starting point guard for the Knicks team that went to the 1993-94 NBA Finals.

Harper works as an analyst for the Mavericks television broadcasts.

 

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