Now, there’s something that I’ve always just really enjoyed, and that’s the insane, unpredictable chaos that comes in the world. And the world of sports seems to have quite a lot of it. The word is entropy.
The Portland Trail Blazers are known for exactly this sort of unpredictable chaos. When it comes to drafting players, they have a history of getting players like Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden – guys who cannot stay on a basketball court because they are constantly injured. There’s a chaotic randomness to that.
They’ve had circumstances like Arvydas Sabonis, who didn’t come over to the NBA until about a decade after he was drafted, when he was beyond the prime of his career and was so broken down by injury that, reportedly, he legitimately could’ve qualified for disability if he’d tried.
And then, of course, in the early 2000s, this was a team known as the “Portland Jail Blazers”. Ruben Patterson was a rapist that was arrested for domestic violence, and once tried to kill Zach Randolph.
I suppose Z-Bo himself was no angel as well, but luckily his problems stayed on the court, constantly starting fights in practices whenever he felt disrespected and those sorts of things. Considering he was a 20-ish year old backup on a contending team made up almost entirely of psychopaths, that was probably quite often.
Qyntel Woods ran a dogfighting ring while he was on the team. Damon Stoudamire tried to bring drugs on a plane multiple times. The team’s captain and vice captain of that era were Bonzi Wells (who is called Bonzi because his mom likes to eat bonbons, true story) and the all-time technical foul leader, Rasheed Wallace.
It was the absolute worst assembled actually talented team of all time, and it was amazing to watch because you never knew what was going to happen next. It was enthralling in a way.
But one of my favorite stories, one that barely anyone’s ever heard of, actually happened a little bit after the Jail Blazers were broken up. Let me introduce you to two giant big men who barely knew how to play basketball.
Ha Seung-Jin was a little-known South Korean big man. 7’3″, 305 lbs was what he measured at coming out of college in Korea, where he had been a national champion in their league, and he was drafted in the second round in 2004.
He wasn’t good enough to make the team for the Blazers, so he ended up with a semi-professional team called the Portland Reign, where he spent a few months before eventually actually getting signed by the Portland Trail Blazers in the middle of the season because of injuries to the other two centers they had, Theo Ratliff and Joel Przybilla. Ha would go on to play a total of 104 minutes that season, and averaged just 1.4 points and 0.9 rebounds.
Meanwhile, there was an even taller guy named Nedžad Sinanović. Sinanović was a 7’4″ Bosnian player who had been playing in Belgium and Spain the previous few years, where he averaged an amazing 2.1 points and 2.4 rebounds for Real Madrid in Spain the previous year. At that point in time that was the best season he’d ever had! Somehow, and by ‘somehow’ I mean because of the fact that he’s a 7’4″ dude who they had the draft rights to, he ended up making it to the Trail Blazers’ Summer League team for three years in a row around that time, and that’s where this story takes us. To the NBA Summer League in 2005.
Now, for most people the Summer League isn’t a big deal. I like to watch it because it’s a good sign potentially of how some of the future stars of the NBA, and even of the EuroLeague, might end up turning out. But there’s obviously not a huge focus on it, and that was even much more of the case back in 2005. They didn’t have a playoff system to it, there certainly wasn’t any extensive coverage of it like there is now, zero games were televised, and it’s pretty much impossible to figure out who “won” the Summer League back then. Essentially, no one cared about the Summer League back then. Including some of the teams.
So getting back to that story, this Blazers Summer League team had four future NBA players. Along with Ha Seung-Jin, they also had Sebastian Telfair, Travis Outlaw, and Martell Webster, plus a bunch of random guys who, best case scenario, had decent careers over in Europe.
They went 3-3, and Sinanović was one of the three guys not on a guaranteed contract who were given a training camp invite, along with Sam Clancy and Charles Cornelius Smith.
This team was bad, on their way to finish with the worst record in the NBA, and their only half-decent player was a young Zach Randolph.
To recap, this is the worst basketball team in the NBA, in training camp, and these are two guys way over seven feet tall, fighting for one of the last spots on this roster. Granted, it was a foregone conclusion that Ha Seung-Jin would make it over Sinanović, but they were both aggressively bad at basketball for an NBA level.
So one day, at the end of practice, the team was shooting free throws to warm down after having a tough day of situational drills filled with back-and-forth post battles between Ha and Sinanović. After Sinanović made one particular free throw, he began taunting Ha Seung-Jin a little bit, as Ha was a notoriously bad shooter with a 50% career free throw percentage.
They got in a bit of a scuffle. And I mean, that’s not too far from the standard. Fights happen all the time between NBA teammates behind the scenes and in practices.
But what happened next was a bit different.
Ha got punched in the face and they were pulled apart by assistant coaches, trainers, and staffers, when Ha began screaming “I’ll sue!” at Nedžad as they were getting pulled apart. They were escorted to different sides of the facility, and normally that’s where the story would end, but if this story ended normally, I wouldn’t be telling you about it, would I?
Ha’s neutral corner happened to be the weight room. He found one of those wooden poles that players sometimes use to stretch, he picked it up, and he went after Sinanović. He charged at Nedžad, swinging this four-foot long wooden pole at him.
Somehow Sinanović managed to block the first swing with his forearm, but Ha swung it again. He hit him directly in the ribs before someone managed to rip the pole out of Ha’s hands and chuck it across the court.
Now, this wasn’t anything particularly serious or egregious, especially compared to what went on with this team the previous few years. It did lead to some bruised ribs for Nedžad that would keep him off the court for a couple weeks, but he didn’t end up making the team anyways, and spent the rest of his career bouncing around in Europe. Ha did make the team as their fourth string center, but after 27 more games would never play in the league again.
What makes this moment so special though is simply that this is just such a random, insane thing, featuring the weirdest weapon and two completely inconsequential, but hilarious, characters involved.
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