Just like he did in the Eastern Conference during the 1990s, Michael Jordan is burning a pathway through the NBA zeitgeist on a weekly basis through new episodes of The Last Dance. The latest debate to flare up online comes from former teammates Craig Ehlo and Ron Harper over what the game plan was for Jordan’s infamous series-winning jump shot in the first round of the 1989 playoffs.
Ehlo is cemented in history as the man whose arms are splayed up beneath Jordan, and who’s standing in stunned disbelief in snapshots of Jordan’s famous celebratory leap. According to Harper, though, that’s not how it should have gone.
In the third installment of The Last Dance, Harper, who would go on to become a teammate of Jordan’s for the titular 1997-98 season, argued that he asked Cleveland head coach Lenny Wilkens if he could defend Jordan on the final play of the game rather than Ehlo. When Wilkens turned him down, Harper responded with a concise “f*ck this bullsh*t.’”
But in a new interview with Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, Ehlo says it was a “no-brainer” that he would guard Jordan in order to let Harper play help defense, which he was better at, and save his energy if the team needed him to shoot again the next time down the floor.
Then Ehlo takes it one step further: “Harp had never really talked about defense or guarding people. He wasn’t a bad defender, I will give him that much, but I think those years with the Bulls where he got those championships, he was definitely third or fourth fiddle, so all of a sudden he becomes this lockdown defender, apparently. I don’t really remember him during our time wanting to play defense that much. He kind of shocked me with those comments, saying he wanted to guard Michael.”
No one except the two men involved (and maybe Wilkens, who’d be fantastic to hear from on this) can know who said what in a playoff series 30-plus years ago. However, Ehlo had better length and mobility to contest what the Cavaliers knew would likely be a jumper, whereas Harper is more of a strongman on defense.
It’s easy for Harper to say now, based on how things played out, that he pleaded to defend Jordan all those years ago. But despite all the times this shot has been discussed by NBA fans since 1989, the question of whether it should have been Ehlo guarding Jordan never really comes up. That was his role on those Cavs teams, and it seems like maybe Harper’s frustration is what came through in The Last Dance, rather than a clear memory of history.