The Wikipedia page of Derek Harper describes him as one of the best players never to have made an All-Star Game. After being named to the University of Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame this week, the legendary former Illini did a teleconference call with the media.
He was asked what he believes his legacy will be, and he responded by saying he really doesn’t think too much about it, but he also offered this very substantive answer: “I think people will remember Derek Harper because he left it on the floor every single night.”
“Played with a passion, tough-minded…I gave the game every breath I had. To me, that’s enough.”
The conference call with Harper, who was an All-American at Illinois in 1980 and 1983, covered a lot of ground, including basketball indoor hoops among other things, but there is one specific topic we need to focus on here: his friendship with one of the most powerful and colorful figures in all of basketball, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban.
Harper, who played for the Mavericks from 1983-1994 and 1996-7, had his number retired by the club in 2018. While most sports team owners are distant from the players and very media shy, Cuban is anything but.
A lot of us know Cuban the software billionaire philanthropist, as well as the opinionated media pundit and co-host of CNBC’s Shark Tank.
We asked Derek Harper about Cuban the man, instead of the public figure.
“Mark is a very down to Earth person,” Harper answered.
“And I feel comfortable e-mailing, talking to about what’s going on in my world. Mark has opened himself up to everyone that’s part of the organization. I tell him thank you all the time, because he doesn’t have to do some of the things that he does- takes excellent care of his employees.”
Harper then showed us the lighter side of the man who has owned the Mavs since the turn of the millenium.
“He thinks he can play, he can’t, but he’s a gym rat. He’s the guy, you come to the game early, he’s in the gym shooting hoops.”
Harper, a two time NBA All-Defensive team selection during his career, added that Cuban keeps inviting him to play hoops at his health club, but it conflicts with his golf games.
Right now, the only gyms and fitness centers people can go to are the facilities in their own homes. None are open, as the coronavirus pandemic has brought life down to only the bare bones essentials. Mark Cuban, who rates #179 on the Forbes 400 list, has an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion.
He’s been very active and extremely charitable during the pandemic, continuing to pay all his employees while those businesses are shuttered for the time being. He’s also made an effort to try and get people their fiscal stimulus checks for $1,200 sooner than the three weeks it may the payments to arrive.
Harper has taken notice of Cuban’s generosity.
“He owns, I believe 150 small businesses, so it’s certainly been damaging for him,” Harper continued.
“Everyone is aware that Mark has that kind of heart to give, to try and make a difference in society and he has. That’s what it’s all about, when you’re in a position to help, when things are in disarray, I think it’s important that you do and he’s clearly been one of those guys- a huge help in times of need.”
Also on the call, Harper reflected back on two major memories from his collegiate basketball career- one extremely positive, and the other on the opposite extreme.
Bad news first, and it came Dec. 11, 1982 at Kentucky, where the Illini got blown out 76-57.
“I will never forget how loud Rupp Arena was,” Harper said. “I couldn’t hear myself think. I think I was 2 for 11 or something like that. It was a national-televised game.”
However, happier times came on March 13, 1983, a 70-67 home win over Minnesota, where Harper hit a three-pointer at the end of the second overtime to clinch it.
“That was the only time my mother got to see me play while I was in Champaign,” Harper said.
“I’ll never forget Bryan Leonard, George Montgomery and those guys putting me up on their shoulders and the arena going crazy.”
Harper, the 11th overall pick in the 1983 draft, went on to score over 16,000 points and register over 6,000 assists over his 16 season career.
For a look at five of the top men’s basketball candidates to go into the Illini Hall of Fame go to this link.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation.
You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link
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