Ha, Portland Will Miss You

The Portland Trailblazers recently traded three players to the Milwaukee Bucks for Jamaal Magliore, a true center we desperately need (but who may cause some problems because our other center, Joel Pryzbilla, is our true breakout player). We lost Brian Skinner (who’d only been here for half a season), Steve Blake (who will probably become an all-star because he’s left), and Ha Seung-Jin. I will miss Skinner’s hairstyle (bald, like me, with an awesome goatee I will always envy), and Blake’s steady play, passing, and heads-up ball. But most of all, I’ll miss Ha.

Ha was not a great basketball player. He averaged less than two points a game, which means most games he didn’t make a single field goal. He also averaged less than two rebounds per game, which might be the fewest for any guy in the league standing at 7’3”. Oh, and according to his carreer stat line he never made a single assist. Ouch. Now, this doesn’t mean Ha might not become a great player. Jermaine O’Neal averaged less than five points per game while with Portland, and is now a star who puts up almost 25 with Indiana when healthy. His rebounding average went from about 3 to around 10. If Ha makes the same kind of improvement then he will… okay, he’ll still be mediocre. A five fold increase in points would have him scoring about eight points a game, and tripling his rebounds would give him six. Oh, and even if his assist average gets 100% better, he still won’t make any. So O’Neil isn’t quaking in his boots, but the evidence still shows that players improve when we get rid of them. Ask Rasheed Wallace.

But there’s more to basketball than basketball, I guess, because Ha made the game experience more fun. You don’t go to a Trailblazers game expecting to see a win. Not last season, anyway. After all, we were worse than the Knicks, and we don’t have Isaiah Thomas intentionally running the club into the ground as an excuse. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities to put Ha in as a victory cigar, like Darko Milicic in Detroit, because we didn’t win very often. We put him in when it was a lost cause, and that seemed to be most of the time. My friends and I loved Ha. He was Detroit’s Darko, but funnier.

I liked Ha from the get-go, because he reminded me of my friend Nick. Nick was a six-and-a-half foot tall Korean guy I knew in college. He let us call him Korean Abdul-Jabaar. He’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet in your life. He was funny. He knew the most outrageous pick-up lines. And, if he really had used them, as he claimed, then he was also very brave. Because I had such a positive impression of Nick, I instantly liked Ha. After all, how many Korean guys are over six feet, let alone over seven? They must all be nice, right? Nick sold me a car that was a hunk of junk, but it ran for almost a decade after I bought it, and may still be running today. Sure, it smelled like he might have puked in it after a night of heavy drinking, but the smell faded and was replaced by smells I was responsible for. I’ve rediscovered Nick thanks to MySpace, and sure enough, he’s still a nice guy and doing even better than when I knew him. So there’s hope for Ha, too.

Not only was Ha unprepared for the NBA game, but he often looked like basketball itself was just too much for him. It’s one thing to look perpetually confused when you can dominate the court like Shaquille O’Neal, but when you’re missing passes, failing to box out, and generally watching nine guys do things you can’t understand, you really can’t afford to let your confusion show like that. I would love to play poker with Ha. That’s assuming he can turn that expression off when he actually knows what he’s doing. Otherwise he would shark everybody.

The greatest thing about Ha was his name. When Ha made a good play (or even a competent play) we would scream his name like madmen. When he made a bonehead play we would scream it, too. That’s the magic of Ha; his name is the sound of laughter. Support and derision are intimately fused. To cheer is to ridicule.

Sure, we also liked Ha because, unlike some other players, he never sexually assaulted anyone, tried to sneak pot wrapped in tin foil through an airport metal detector (tin foil is a metal, Damon), or tried to use his basketball trading card as identification when pulled over for speeding. Instead, Ha went to visit kids in the hospital at Christmas. While there, he looked confused. And he probably frightened the kids. But he was tying to be a good citizen, and we liked him for that, too.

Maybe Portland will be a much better team next year. We had a great draft day, and I’m looking forward to Magloire’s near double-double points and rebounds. We need the help. But I’ll miss Ha. I wish him well in Milwaukee.

So long, Ha. Oh, Ha. Oh, Ha. Oh, Ha Ha Ha.