Craig Ehlo on Ron Harper: ‘I don’t really remember him during our time wanting to play defense that much’

Michael Jordan and Craig Ehlo
Ed Wagner Jr./Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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OF COURSE, ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary reignited a decades-long feud between the Bulls and Pistons.

But I didn’t anticipate it’d sow discord within in 1989 Cavaliers.

Episode 3 of “The Last Dance” included a couple piercing soundbites about The Shot – Jordan’s iconic buzzer-beater that eliminated Cleveland.

Jordan:

They had Craig Ehlo on me at the time, which in all honestly was a mistake. Because the guy that played me better was Ron Harper.

Ron Harper:

I said, “Coach, I got MJ. I got MJ.” So the coach tells me, “I’m going to put Ehlo on MJ.” And I’m like, “Yeah, OK. Whatever. F— this bulls—t.”

Ehlo, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“I never said I was a Jordan stopper like Gerald Wilkins or anything,” Ehlo said during an extensive call with cleveland.com this week. “But back then Harp and me were on the court at the same time and he was our big offensive threat. So, when I came in it was a no-brainer that I would guard Jordan so Harp could rest on defense and play on offense.

“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.”

Would Harper have defended Jordan better than Ehlo? Impossible to know. This is a classic case of results tainting any examination of the process. Ehlo defended Jordan pretty well on that final possession. Jordan was just better.

Ehlo is correct: It made some sense for Ehlo to guard Jordan throughout the game to preserve Harper’s energy for offense. But this was a single possession to determine the series. At that point, Cleveland should have put its best perimeter defender – based on peak ability, not sustained effort – on Jordan. That might have been Harper. As Ehlo acknowledged, Harper later showed his defensive upside when not tasked with so much offensive responsibility with the Bulls.

But maybe the only difference would be we’d be talking about Jordan’s shot over Harper. Or, perhaps running the possession again would have led to Jordan missing over Ehlo.

At a certain point, we’re left with reality: Jordan hit The Shot over Ehlo.