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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Derek Harper, Otis Thorpe to be joined by John Collins as Palm Beach County’s only first round picks in NBA draft

Former North Shore High standout Derek Harper was drafted 11th overall in 1983 by the Dallas Mavericks.(Getty Images)

When it comes to high school basketball, 1979-80 was a pretty good year for Palm Beach County.

At the south end a long, lanky big man named Otis Thorpe was catching the eye of college scouts at Lake Worth High School. Farther north, a steady, all-around guard named Derek Harper was leading North Shore High to a state championship.

After both forged college careers – Thorpe at Providence and Harper at Illinois – in which they were named first-team all-conference and garnered All-American mention, they became the first area players to be chosen in the first round of the NBA draft.

Harper, who left Illinois after his junior season, was the 11th overall pick of the 1983 draft by the Dallas Mavericks.

Otis Thorpe, who starred at Lake Worth High, was the ninth overall pick in the 1994 NBA draft. (Getty Images)

Thorpe remains the highest drafted player in county history, going to the Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings in 1984 with the ninth overall pick.

Harper and Thorpe should have company Thursday as former Cardinal Newman High standout John Collins is expected to be drafted in the middle of the first round.

Collins, a 6-foot-9 power forward, played two seasons at Wake Forest and emerged this season, finishing runner-up in the ACC Player of the Year voting and being named the conference’s Most Improved Player. He is projected to go as high as No. 13 to the Denver Nuggets and some mock drafts have him being taken 14th by the Miami Heat, the team he rooted for while growing up in West Palm Beach.

“I remember hearing my name called, I remember falling on my knees,” Harper said Wednesday recalling the night he was drafted. “It sticks out to me, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening.’

“If I had to pick one word, ‘excited.’ Excited as heck. I’m sure he’s going through the same thing right now.”

Harper and Thorpe, who are members of the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame,  made up 40 percent of the 1980 Palm Beach Post All-Area team. Harper, the player of the year, averaged 27.0 points per game with Thorpe tossing in 20.0 per game.

Sixteen years later, Harper and Thorpe would face each other in the NBA Finals where Thorpe’s Rockets defeated Harper’s Knicks in seven games. The two developed a bond that started on the playgrounds of Palm Beach County and continued during their days in the NBA. But as anyone who has ever been around Thorpe knows, Thorpe was very difficult to get to know.

“A very shy guy, it’s like pulling teeth to try to get him to befriend you,” Harper said. “Otis has always been a stoic guy, a guy who was very comfortable in his skin and let his game do the talking.

“I admire him in the way of him being his own man, being comfortable enough to be himself.”

At Illinois, Harper was named first-team All-Big Ten and second team All-American as a junior in 1983 and decided to get a jump start on his NBA career.

Harper had a 16-year professional career, the first 11 with Dallas before he was acquired by the Knicks, and coach Pat Riley, during the 1994 season.

When he left Dallas, Harper was the franchise’s all-time leader in assists, steals and 3-point baskets. He became the first Mavericks player to be named to an NBA All-Defense team, earning second team honors in 1987 and 1990.

In New York, Harper made an immediate impact as the starting point guard, helping the Knicks reach those 1994 Finals. Harper led the Knicks with 6.0 assist while averaging 16.3 points in the Finals. Thorpe led the Rockets with 11.3 rebounds and averaged 9.3 points.

Although he makes his home in the Dallas area, Harper frequently comes back to Palm Beach Country and in 1987 he became a sponsor of a high school basketball tournament played each December at Palm Beach Lakes High School.

Thorpe starred for three seasons at Providence College, earning first team All-Big East honors his senior year after averaging 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Thorpe played 17 seasons in the NBA and was an All Star in 1991-92 with the Rockets. He played for eight different franchises, including 51 games with the Miami Heat in 1999-00.

In Houston, Thorpe teamed with center Hakeem Olajuwon to help lead the Rockets to that title over the Knicks. He was traded before Houston’s 1995 championship.

Thorpe, who lives in the Austin, Texas, area, was honored by the Rockets in February as part of the franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration.

The 1980 Palm Beach Post All-Area high school basketball team with Derek Harper (center) and Otis Thorpe (lower right).

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