By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Feb 15 2010 7:09AM
DALLAS -- Derek Harper always used the NBA All-Star break for rest and recuperation.
And we do mean always. Harper, who played 10 of his 16 NBA seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, is widely considered to hold the title of "best NBA player never to make it to an All-Star Game." That status took on extra meaning with the league's showcase weekend held in the city where Harper starred -- even if we're stuck forever spelling that word with a lower case "s."
"Yeah, [that unofficial title] is an honor," Harper said Sunday morning, not long after receiving a bigger official one: He was presented with the 2010 NBA Legends Leadership Award, one of several former Dallas and other NBA players recognized for their contributions as athletes, as businessmen and as humanitarians.
There was a time Harper simply wanted to be the best pro point guard he could be, a level that got him close to -- but not quite on top of -- the pinnacle of his profession. Then again, it was all relative, given the competition for All-Star spots.
"From my era," Harper said, "Magic [Johnson] was in the Western Conference, Kevin Johnson was in the West, [Tim] Hardaway was in the West. Terry Porter. John Stockton was in the Western Conference! It was almost impossible for everybody to make it. I think that's one of the reasons how I missed out on being an All-Star.
"But I think that if you asked these guys -- if you asked Magic and KJ -- they'd have me as an All-Star, and that's all that matters to me."
Johnson, the Lakers' Hall of Fame playmaker, didn't even need to be asked. He acknowledged Harper's game from the podium during the brunch presentation at a downtown Dallas hotel. "I used to hate to play Derek Harper," Johnson said, "because Derek Harper would get two steals on me every single game."
Said former Mavs center James Donaldson, a teammate of Harper and the recipient of the Legends ABC Award Sunday: "He had the credentials to make it to the All-Star game, and he had them year after year after year. He had an All-Star career. A terrific leader on the floor, the guy you want to be in the foxhole with night after night. That epitomizes Derek Harper."
Harper, the 11th pick overall out of Illinois in the 1983 draft, averaged 13.3 points, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals in 1,199 regular season games. From 1986-87 through 1992-93, he averaged at least 16.0 ppg and as many as 7.9 assists in a season. He ranks 18th in assists and 14th in steals, all-time, and was in the top 10 in each category when he retired. In his first seven seasons, Dallas was a total of 74 games over .500 and reached the playoffs six times.
"We had a lot of success as a group," Harper said. "If it wasn't for the Lakers being a nemesis, we would have won a championship."
Some other Legends moments:
-- Dallas Cowboys running back great Emmitt Smith introduced Harper and got off a good line while noting the point guard's career stats. "He and Isiah Thomas," Smith said, "are the only two players to retire with 15,000 points, 6,000 assists and also 18,000 yards. Oh, I'm sorry. I did that. He made 1,800 steals."
-- The legend-est of NBA stars, Bill Russell, was in attendance, and Commissioner David Stern wished him a Happy Birthday. Russell turned 76 on Friday.
-- Seven-time All-Star center Alonzo Mourning was named NBA Legend of the Year, with his many charitable works in Haiti and elsewhere noted. "At 40, I don't consider myself old, but you kind of pushed me to that category," he told the brunch crowd. Mourning also deftly dropped quotes from Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi into his acceptance speech.
-- Former Mavs guard Rolando Blackman received the Legends Pioneer Award, while another ex-Dallas player, Sam Perkins, was presented with the Legends Humanitarian award.
-- Mark Aguirre, still the Mavericks' career leader in scoring average (24.6 ppg), received the Legends Career Achievement Award. The theme of his acceptance speech: "I've taken more than I've given." That included, Aguirre admitted, signature moves from the likes of Oscar Robertson, Alex English and Bernard King. "I stole from a number of you guys," he said to laughter.
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