Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Really putting the "Blaze" in Trailblazers: Early 00's Portland

A message board that I frequent has posted several funny stories from the Portland Trailblazers locker room from about ten years ago:

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In July 2003, Stoudamire was back in trouble with the law. The former Rookie of the Year was arrested at an Arizona airport after he was caught with an ounce of marijuana wrapped in aluminum foil. Derek Anderson - The swingman was once "spotted in 2005... going through a drive-through window at McDonald’s while his team was playing a game at the Rose Garden."

Q: There was a stretch there when the Blazers were the biggest joke in the league. We’ll get to the Oden era in a moment but first, we’d like your three best (told or untold) JailBlazer stories. And somewhat related – living in a relatively small city, were you ever mildly worried about your safety, especially since the cops said Zach Randolph rolled with gangbangers?

Jason Quick, The Oregonian beat reporter who covers the team, has seen far more than me. He deserves some kind of honorary beat-reporter medal for enduring what was the worst locker room in all of professional sports. There’s wide speculation among some Blazers employees that Sebastian Telfair was not accidentally carrying that gun on the plane in Boston that day he was busted for a concealed weapon, but that he was carrying the gun all the time because Telfair might have feared the entourage of a couple of teammates who didn’t like him. Maybe he had reason. Just before he was traded to the Knicks, someone on the gang enforcement team at Portland Police Department told me to pick up the MTV Cribs episode that featured Zach Randolph because the police had a copy, and noticed some disturbing details about the unsavory people who hung around Randolph.

Whenever the Blazers sign a player to a 10-day contract the equipment manager provides the player with a free set of team-issue luggage. Sort of a welcome gift. Nothing incredibly fancy, but it’s way better than the stuff I have. So Omar Cook is signed a couple of years ago, and the luggage is placed in front of his locker. Cook was flying in from out of town, so he’s not there yet. Ruben Patterson, the team’s registered sex offender, sees the luggage, knows Cook isn’t around yet, and Patterson basically just decides he’s going to abscond the luggage. He just rips the name tags off and takes it. Nobody says a word, either. It’s not anything violent, but it demonstrates the lack of decency and respect that permeated.

Another time, in the visiting locker room in Dallas, I had Rasheed Wallace threaten to punch me after a playoff-game loss. Deadline was approaching, I’m the only writer in the locker room and I’m asking Rasheed questions, and he whips around, and tells me to get out of his space or he’s going to punch me out. At that point, his teammates are all looking to see how I react, and in no way am I going to back down. I’m looking at Rasheed, and thinking if he takes a swing I’m going to try and stuff him into the locker behind him if only because journalists everywhere need me to man up in that situation. Either that, or I’m going to get knocked out and blow my deadline. So I tell him I’m not moving. I just stand there, holding my notepad and recorder, and we’re staring at each other. He eventually storms past me to the shower, and while he’s gone Zach Randolph, a rookie then, leans in to me and says, “When ‘Sheed comes back, make sure you don’t have your back to him. He’ll sucker punch you.” The great irony is that a month later Randolph sucker-punched Ruben Patterson during a practice breaking his eye socket. Someone was holding Patterson’s arms when Randolph threw the haymaker. There was a period of a few days after that incident where Randolph hid out at Dale Davis’ house because he feared that Patterson was going to try and shoot him.

Here’s my favorite story, though. Blazers back-up centers Ha Seung Jin and Nedzad Sinanovic were locked in the Blazers practice facility together for the summer, playing against each other because they needed the work. Ha, who is 7-foot-3, had come back from South Korea out of shape, then was hampered by tendinitis in his knee, and so he’s getting schooled by the 7-foot-4 Sinanovic, from Bosnia.

The two were tussling and tangling on the court. It’s getting pretty heated, and they’re yapping and cussing at each other, most of which neither can understand because of the language differences. And as the players usually do at the end of a workout, the two players were shooting free throws together in silence. Sinanovic went first, then it was Ha’s turn.

Peaceful enough.

That is, until Sinanovic made his final free throw, then retrieved the basketball and held it. I mean, it was like watching kids bicker and fight. Ha walked over and snatched the ball back. Then, Sinanovic said something unkind and two men ended up on the ground in a pile of swinging elbows and fists.

The fight was broken up by Blazers trainers and team managers, who are all about two feet shorter than the two players. Ha, who took a good punch in the face from Ned, was screaming, “I’ll sue! I’ll sue!”

The two were escorted to different areas of the practice facility to cool off. Normally the story would end here. Except Ha’s neutral corner happened to be the team weight room. He picks up one of those long wooden poles that players use to stretch. Ha just comes running out of the weight room swinging the pole and screaming expletives in Korean. He really went after Sinanovic, who blocked one swing with his forearm but took another shot in the ribs before someone ripped the pole (think: closet dowel) from Ha’s hands and threw it across the courts.

If you didn’t have the fight in you before you came to Portland, you soon found it.

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