Derek Harper might be one of the most underrated and unappreciated players who ever donned the Knicks uniform. I think people forget just how good of a player he was and how valuable he was to the early-mid 90s teams. He only played 2 1/2 years for the Knicks and is better known for his years with the Mavericks, but will always hold a significant place in the heart of Knick fans.
The Knicks traded for Harper 28 games into the 1993 season in which the Knicks were one game away from winning a championship. It was a steal of a deal as all they gave up was Tony Campbell and a 1st round pick which turned out to be John Thomas. Neither are headed to Springfield.
Harper brought additional toughness and leadership at the point guard position which was seriously needed after Doc Rivers went down with a season ending injury. He showed that toughness in the 1994 playoff series against the Bulls where he tossed Jo Jo English. Check out the video: Bulls Knicks Brawl- 1994 Playoffs
Harper was an exceptionally accomplished player with the Mavericks and came to the Knicks at the tail end of his career (age 32), but had the mentality needed to play in the Knicks/Pat Riley system. He was the type of player who would not back down from anyone and wanted to take big shots. He still had some game left in him as he averaged almost 12 points a game in his Knicks career. His quality play helped lead the Knicks to 3 playoff appearances.
Everyone remembers Patrick Ewing’s rebound dunk against the Pacers in game 7 of the 94 Conference finals, but the Knicks were down double digits earlier in the game, and Harper made several key shots keeping the Knicks close. He was the final piece of the puzzle which got the Knicks over the top in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the Eastern Conference championship was as far as it went as they lost a heartbreaking 7 game series against the Rockets in the finals.
Harper’s impact with the Knicks and the league was so immense that the NBA changed their defensive rules. He was the master of the hand check, and now it is now outlawed in the league. Not too many guys can say they caused a league to change a rule because of them, and that is a significant accomplishment in itself.
What made me appreciate Harper most was so many guys came to New York with a solid track record and ultimately failed. This city is not for everyone. He went from a terrible situation in Dallas to a championship contending team and fit in like a glove. He had a true New Yorker blue collar mentality which certainly translated to the fans who were watching him. He was never the most talented player on the court, but was one of the toughest and hardworking, and as a fan, there is not much more you can ask for.