Sunday, July 10, 2016

West Palm Beach's Derek Harper Brought 90s Knicks Mental Moxie

The collective cocksure attitude became contagious for the legendary basket-brawl Knicks teams of the early to mid 1990s.

 These Knicks were truly New York's favored OGs.

Frank White's veritable goons in orange-and-blue, this particular era of New York basketball birthed many of today's Knicks loyalists.

 Blue collar toughness became their identity.

No 90s Knick ever needed to be told,  "hey man, leave your vag at home."

The team bought into the physical concept.

  They were fully committed to covering each other's necks during this vastly different NBA heyday.

Neutralizing, negating, and applying the clamps on any high-scoring threat who dared taking over on their Garden floor, these Knicks brought appeal to discipline and defense.

 Yes, those '94 Knicks were emblematic of the hustle and grind-heavy mentality of the pressure cooker that is New York City.

 John Starks, Derek Harper, Patrick Ewing, The Oak Man, and the late and legendary Anthony Mason, all Hard Knocks U graduates, utilized this rugged mentality in appeasing the high-maintenance Pat Riley.

Here in sun-baked South Florida, we are currently visiting the former stomping grounds of Derek Harper. Harper was the venerable point guard who quarterbacked that memorable 1994 NBA Finals runner-up squad.

A career 11.3 PPG scorer during a thorough NBA career underscored by his stay in Dallas (“Harp” is currently involved with the Mavericks organization as a TV analyst.) Harper is one of South Florida's most reputable sons.

 West Palm isn't all beaches and pool-dotted resorts and flowing palm trees and 55+ retirement communities.

There is a hardscrabble inner city.

During these sultry summer days, tensions tend to skyrocket. 

The area has steadily developed into the rehab capital of the world, a hub for recovery centers and halfway houses and high-end detoxes.

While many of these treatment centers do a commendable job selling retired junkies on the serenity of lifelong sobriety, don't be surprised to see drug-addled marauders roaming the streets.

In New York Harper was a calming influence, primarily a ball control point guard.

He orchestrated the fluid attack for a bruiser-laced team predicated on feeding the post.

Featuring 7-foot behemoth and 11-time NBA All-Star Patrick Ewing , it was only necessary to flank the big fella with thorough interior bangers.

Ewing and this thick frontline could never have envisioned their once prominent organization faltering so mightily in the following era.

Eddy Curry and a number of lackluster, jarringly overpriced duds from the dismal Dolan era sullied the organization.

This was not flashy, souped up basketball. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

No swift-passing attack. No arsenal  of deep-ranged shooters. No furiously athletic Russel Westbrook-like attackers flying all across the court.

Though Harper is from scenic West Palm Beach, there was truly nothing aesthetic about this hard-hitting Knicks team.

Harper was crafty, cerebral, controlled. Harp scored in a multitude of ways, with crafty finishing ability amid swarming hands and a high-release set shot rendering him a scorer in Dallas.

HARP's legacy isn't complete without mention of the massive brawl with JOJO English in a classic melee witnessed by then-commissioner David Stern. This was a classic throw down. It occurred during a heightened stage of the historic and heated Knicks/Bulls rivalries of the 1990s.

While it surely isn't even in the same school district or classroom as the Malice at the Palice, rarely do you see a free-for-all of this type. Yellow-clad security guards jump in to quell the hostilities, as you can see.

As the offensive engineer, it was Harper’s responsibility to keep the mercurial John Starks engaged. Though Starks rarely (if ever) saw a shot he would turn his nose at, NO.3 had the scoring spurt-ability and hard-driving acumen (mastering the right-to-left dunk) to make that Garden crowd rock in ways only rarified Knicks are capable of.

Like J.R. Smith after him, Starks possessed a unique ability to shoot himself out of a maddening funk and rapidly develop the hot hand.

Harper became a stabilizing force at point guard with the Knicks. He didn't author the scoring numbers he did at Dallas ("Harp" averaged 17+ PPG for three consecutive seasons in the early 1990s), albeit he adapted to the facilitator role in New York.

While his most memorable season was clearly the 1993-94 championship run, Harper's best statistical season was 1995-96. In this particular season, Harper averaged 14.0 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.6 steals. The Knicks underwent a coaching change midway through the season when Don Nelson was supplanted by Jeff Van Gundy. Nelson, who warred with several of the Knicks' star players, most notably Starks, simply couldn't steer the pressure cooker that is New York City. 

In the football-crazed land of Palm Beach County, Harper emerged into a stud point guard for North Shore High in West Palm Beach.