Harper to pass on tips to S'pore basketballers

Former NBA guard Ron Harper is in town to participate in the first Jr. NBA Singapore 2016 National Training Camp and pass on tips.
Former NBA guard Ron Harper is in town to participate in the first Jr. NBA Singapore 2016 National Training Camp and pass on tips. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

As the 1.98m-tall man sauntered to his seat with a basketball in hand, it was hard to believe that anyone would have deemed him unfit to star in a basketball team.

But five-time National Basketball Association champion Ron Harper, 52, recalls being cut as a freshman from his high school team.

Speaking to The Straits Times at The Westin Singapore, he said the best piece of advice he ever received was this: "Work hard, continue trying. Just because you aren't on the team this year doesn't mean you can't make it next season."

He hopes to bring this message across to the boys and girls he will meet at the first Jr. NBA Singapore 2016 National Training Camp, held at the OCBC Arena at the Singapore Sports Hub from Friday to Sunday.

"Don't be discouraged, keep playing. The only way to get better is to keep trying... In every sport, you always have to encourage them to go after their dream," he said.

"My dream was to play pro. I wasn't always the best basketball player but I continued to have fun and worked hard. If you continue to work at your basketball skills anything can happen."

TEAM PLAYER

Then the coach came to me and said, 'What role can you play for this team?' I told him, 'Ain't no shots. I can become a very good defensive player.'

RON HARPER, a five-time National Basketball Association champion, recalling the adjustments he made when he was with the Chicago Bulls. The former guard won three rings with the Bulls.

He carried this lesson with him even when he left the Los Angeles Clippers and joined the Chicago Bulls in 1994.

The Bulls boasted players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc. With these heavyweights on offence, Harper had little choice but to adapt his game and become a more defensive player if he wanted to stay.

With the change, his average points per game took a hit - from 20.1 with the Clippers in the 1993-94 season to 6.9 in the 1994-95 season with the Bulls.

However, to the Ohio native, the statistics did not matter.

He said: "It wasn't a difficult thing to do. When MJ came back to the team, we all knew who he was and he wasn't going to change. I knew who Scottie Pippen was, I knew what Toni Kukoc could do.

"Then the coach came to me and said, 'What role can you play for this team?'

"I told him, 'Ain't no shots. I can become a very good defensive player, I can find some part to play in this team.' And he said that was what he wanted to hear."

His maturity paid off and he went on to collect three championship rings with the Bulls and later two more with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Looking ahead to the upcoming season that tips off on Oct 25, Harper predicts a rematch of this year's Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.

But he feels the Cavs - his first professional team - will need to go injury-free in order to retain their title.

He said: "They have to maintain (their level) and hope for a good year. Everybody (has) to stay healthy, that's a big key.

"They were healthier this season. Last season, they lost Kyrie (Irving), so they were more of a team this year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline 'Harper to pass on tips to S'pore basketballers'. Print Edition | Subscribe