Sports Vault: Ron Harper was so dominant at Miami, his number was retired at his final game
Once mocked for stuttering, he got the last laugh
Shannon Russell | WCPO contributor
5:00 AM, Aug 8, 2017
Ron Harper grew up in Dayton, where his basketball game did the talking that his stutter deterred, and played his way into the Miami University record books before becoming a five-time NBA champion.
"When I was a young kid going to school, people were making fun and laughing at me," Harper said of his speech impediment to NBA.com in 2015. "When we stepped on the football field, the baseball field or the basketball court, I laughed at them back."
Harper said stuttering made him stronger. He was proud of his identity, which expanded with success and his role in the professional game.
But first he was the toast of Miami, where he remains the program's all-time leading scorer with 2,377 points and all-time leading rebounder with 1,119 boards. Both marks are elite in Mid-American Conference annals, too: He's second in career scoring and third in career rebounding.
In all, Harper is the owner or co-owner of 17 RedHawks records from 1982 to 1986.
He delivered a dominating brand of skill, from logging a 45-point game against Ball State on March 8, 1985 to propelling Miami to three of its 17 NCAA tournament appearances.
He once buried a baseline jumper with two seconds remaining to clip Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti. Besides hitting the game-winner, he stole a desperation pass from the Eagles to effectively end the outing. He scored 25 of Miami's 65 points that night in 1985.
The three-time All-MAC first-team selection was a consensus Second Team All-American in 1986 and a two-time conference player of the year. The 6-foot-6 guard's explosive play led to team-high averages of 24.4 points and 11.7 rebounds his final season.
Another milestone: Harper was the first player in MAC annals to earn a triple double. He scored 38 points with 19 rebounds and 12 assists in an outing versus Ball State.
Harper was so dominant that his number, 34, was retired at his final game in 1986. Just months later he was the No. 8 pick in the NBA draft, selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his life shifted to a new direction.
In addition to the Cavs, he played for the Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. His pro career ended in 2001.
Although Harper, 53, is not a member of Miami's Athletics Hall of Fame -- he did not graduate, and that's a prerequisite -- he was honored with the university's Distinguished Achievement Award in 2015.
Harper was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. He also served as a Detroit Pistons assistant coach around that time, but stepped away from basketball after that.
"I had to make choice(s) and focus on my family. I made the right choice now but I would like to get back in the game in four or five years," Harper told HoopsHype in 2012.
Since then, his eldest son, Ron Harper Jr., has burst onto the national hoops scene.
The Don Bosco Prep swingman, 16, is a rising star in the high school ranks. In March he told NorthJersey.com that he was taking a break from playing pick-up ball with his dad because the elder Ron had hurt his knee.
When he was healthy, did Ron Sr. give his son a break?
"Everything was always a foul," Ron Jr. told the website, laughing.
While Ron Harper Sr. has led a relatively quiet existence since his NBA retirement, he became part of a Cinderella storyline in the 2015 NCAA tournament. His godson, R.J. Hunter, hit a stunning 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left to lift 14th-seeded Georgia State over third-seeded Baylor in Florida.
Ron Hunter -- R.J.'s dad, Georgia State's coach and Harper's former teammate at Miami -- fell to the floor in celebration. When the final buzzer sounded, R.J. Hunter made a beeline to Harper for a hug.
"I knew that was money," Harper told R.J., according to the New York Post.
Nowadays, Harper is fairly active on social media and appears to enjoy golf and his family.
While other impact players have come and gone from Miami University since his tenure -- like Wally Szczerbiak, who scored a Miami career-second 1,847 points from 1995-99 -- no RedHawk has imparted the same effect on the basketball program.
It has been 31 years since he suited up in a college jersey of his own, but one thing is certain: Harper's legacy lives on in Oxford, Ohio.