Derek Harper (born October 13, 1961 in Elberton, Georgia) was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 1983 NBA draft. He went on to play eleven-plus, of his sixteen year NBA career, with the Mavs.
Harper was a McDonald's All-American his senior year at North Shore High School in West Palm Beach, Florida. Also on that year's McDonald's team were future University of Arkansas great Joe Klein, North Carolina standout, and current SMU basketball coach Matt Doherty and future Dallas Mavericks draft choices Sam Perkins, Charlie Sitton and Tom Sluby.
After being heavily recruited, he decided to attend the University of Illinois and helped lead the Fighting Illini to a 60-30 record during his three years in Champaign, Ill. As a freshman, he guided Illinois to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 18 years.
The next season, Harper led the conference in assists and was an Honorable Mention All-Big 10 selection.
His junior year, the Illini returned to the NCAA tournament and Harper was selected first team All-Big 10 and second team Associated Press All-American.
Harper declared for the NBA draft after his junior season to help support his single mother and ten brothers and sisters. He left Illinois as the school's all-time leader in steals and assists. His jersey (#12) was retired by the school during the 2008-2009 season.
The Dallas Mavericks had two first round selections in the 1983 NBA draft and used them on forward Dale Ellis (ninth overall) and Harper (eleventh overall).
He appeared in all 82 of Dallas' games his rookie season but was dubiously thrust into the national spotlight on June 6, 1984 in Game Four of the Conference Semi-finals vs. the Lakers when he mistakingly thought Dallas was ahead 109-108 when it was actually tied at 108. Harper dribbled out the last six seconds of the game and the game went to overtime. Los Angeles went on to win the game 122-115 and eventually the series. Two years later, however, he would get his revenge when he beat the Lakers in Game Three of the 1986 Conference Semis with a slew of late three-pointers.
Harper saw his scoring average rise in each of the first eight seasons in the league, from his rookie season total of 2.9 points per game to 19.7 ppg in the 1990-1991 campaign. He was also voted to the second team NBA all-defensive team twice, in 1986-1987 and again in 1989-1990. A credit to his defensive style of play, Harper led the Mavericks in steals in every full season he played from 1983 to 1994 and in assists from 1987-1993.
He was also part of along-running Mavs backcourt tandem that included Rolando Blackman. The Harper/Blackman duo was at one point the second longest tenured together, trailing only Magic Johnson and Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Entering the 1990-1991 season, Harper had played in 114 consecutive games, which was at the time the Mavericks longest such streak. In his first seven seasons as a Maverick, he missed just nine games.
Harper currently ranks 23rd in NBA history for three-point shots made with 1,070 and ranks 3rd in Mavs history in three-pointers with 705. He also ranks in the top-10 in Mavs history in field goal attempts, field goals, three-point attempts, free throws, free throw attempts, fouls, games, starts and minutes. He is the all-time Mavs leader in assists (5,111) turnovers (1,771) and steals (1,551).
On Jan. 6, 1994, in the midst of a terrible year which would see Dallas finish 13-69, Harper was traded by the Mavs to the New York Knicks for Tony Campbell and the Knicks' first-round draft choice in the 1997 NBA Draft.
In New York he was a vital part of the Knicks team that came within one game of the 1994 NBA championship, starting at point guard in place of the injured Doc Rivers.
After a two and a half year stop in New York, Harper returned to Dallas for one year via free agency. During that season, he averaged nearly 30 minutes and 10 points per game.
Harper spent one year in Orlando and then signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. After one season, where he appeared in 45 games averaging 6.9 ppg and 4.2 assists per game, LA traded him to the Detroit Pistons. Rather than report to Detroit, Harper chose to retire ending his 16-year NBA career.
Many consider Harper one of the bright spots of the mid-80s, which was the first taste of success for the Mavericks.
Much loved by Mavericks fans, Harper went on to become the color commentator on all Dallas' television telecasts.