Canzano: Punching through the drama
When teammates fight...
It was a Friday in the summer of 2005 and the Trail Blazers were trying to figure out how much depth they had at center. Nedzad Sinanovic, from Bosnia, was set to come to training camp. So was a second-round draft pick named Ha Seung-Jin, who finished his rookie season several months earlier.
Both stand 7-foot-3 and needed some extra practice. And so the two men locked themselves in the team practice facility in Tualatin for a series of workouts.
After his first NBA season, Ha returned home to South Korea, but came back out of shape. Also, he was hampered by tendonitis in his knee. On this particular Friday, Sinanovic was schooling Ha on the court.
The two men were tussling and tangling, per observers. It got heated at a couple of points. There was the customary yapping and cussing, and the language barrier probably didn’t help.
One long-time franchise staff member told me: “The whole thing was kind of comical.”
The workout ended. The players got some water. Then, the two Trail Blazers did what players traditionally do at the end of a workout — they shot free throws together.
Sinanovic went first. Ha shagged balls and waited for his turn to shoot. But after Sinanovic made his final free throw, the Bosnian walked off the free-throw line and retrieved the basketball himself.
Ha motioned for the ball. But Sinanovic just held it. Finally, Ha walked over, and snatched the ball out of his hands. As Ha walked toward the free-throw line, Sinanovic said something under his breath.
This is how two men — 14-plus feet combined height — ended up on the ground in a pile of swinging elbows and fists. Strength-and-conditioning staff members saw the fight break out. So did a team trainer. They rushed over to break it up.
During the scrum, Ha got punched in the face. He was furious. Staffers eventually pried the two NBA players apart. One of them later told me that Ha shouted “I’ll sue! I’ll sue!” as they pulled him away.
The two players were escorted to separate areas of the practice facility. Normally the story would end here. Except, Ha’s “neutral corner” happened to be the team weight room and he was still fired up about being punched.
There were a couple of wooden poles leaning against one corner of the weight room. The players typically used them to stretch out. Ha grabbed one and went running back onto the court after Sinanovic, swinging the pole.
Sinanovic blocked Ha’s first swing with his forearm, but took the second one in the ribs. Finally, two staffers intervened, ripping the pole away from Ha and sending it across the basketball courts.
I’ve told that story before. Ha swinging the pole would have broken the Internet had someone captured it on video. I thought about that incident when I heard that Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole at a Warriors’ practice this week.
It’s a major story in the Bay Area. A punch between teammates is certainly worth addressing, if you’re Golden State. They’re the defending NBA champions and the culture of that organization is held up as a pristine example to the rest of the sports world. This is the first blemish. It’s serious stuff.
A couple of years before the Ha-Sinanovic spat, the Blazers had another incident at the practice facility. In that one, Ruben Patterson, happened to be tangling with Qyntel Woods on the court during a scrimmage.
Zach Randolph was Woods’ best friend on the team. They went everywhere together. Randolph saw Patterson harassing and trash talking his friend. He rushed in and sucker punched Patterson, breaking his eye socket.
Witnesses reported that Patterson was bleeding all over the court. He chased Randolph around the practice facility, screaming at him. He never caught him. Teammates intervened, but Patterson was so mad at Randolph that he allegedly threatened to kill him.
Practice ended on the spot. Patterson sought medical treatment. Randolph was instructed not to go home. Everyone feared Patterson might retaliate. So for a couple of nights after that, Randolph hid out at Dale Davis’ house.
Randolph was later suspended two games without pay, and fined $100,000. He and Patterson tried to smooth things over, but that era of Blazers’ basketball was never marked by great team chemistry.
That brings us back to the Warriors.
Draymond Green is a key part of that franchise’s success. But his talent and impact is waning. He became a liability at times during the playoffs last season. Meanwhile, Jordan Poole is younger and about to cash in on a new contract.
Ego? Pecking order? Or Draymond just being Draymond?
All of that feels at play here. The Warriors did a nice job downplaying the incident on Thursday, but the leak of the video on Friday re-ignited the debate in the Bay Area. One person on Twitter argued that Green’s punch ranked right alongside Latrell Sprewell choking P.J. Carlesimo in the franchise’s Hall of Infamy.
Major League Baseball had a rash of bench-clearing brawls early in the season. The NFL had some well-documented skirmishes in training camp. At a joint practice between the Rams and Bengals in August, all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald grabbed two helmets and started swinging at Cincinnati players.
Again, this stuff happens.
When it happens between teammates, it feels a little different, though. Golden State has to do something. Fine Green? Suspend him without pay? Trade him?
We’re not in an era where a pro sports franchise can pretend nothing happened. I doubt Poole and Green will easily work through this. There’s a long-standing personality clash involved with this one.
I’m fascinated by how this will unfold behind closed doors. The Warriors have a lot of talent and experience, but great team chemistry has always been the glue.
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