If NBA debuts are concerned, Kent Benson probably had the worst experience in history. Not only did he duel with the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the Los Angeles Lakers center sucker punched him. However, tasting a legend’s fist wasn’t the only experience he took away from that fateful night. Later, he also learned a powerful lesson that all of us, not just ballers, could apply in our lives.
Jockeying for position
Benson narrated the infamous play from his point of view. He knew that Abdul-Jabbar was going to try to get to his spot for his hook shot. And so Benson did everything he could to prevent Kareem from doing so — even if it meant getting extra physical.
“On the way back down court, he elbows me several times. I beat him down to his spot on the block where he could shoot his famous hook shot. As he comes down, he takes his elbow and barrels it into my chest. We’re jostling for position and I elbow him back. Nothing malicious, but I elbow him back,” Benson said.
According to Benson, Abdul-Jabbar put on an acting skit after the elbow. Benson also saw Kareem looking at the officials. Then out of nowhere, the Lakers center throws a right cross onto Benson’s face.
“He puts on a big act like he was hurt. He bent over, kinda fell back 10 feet. You can see he looks to see if the officials are looking. I’m watching the ball come down the court because he’s back behind me. He takes a running start and sucker-punches me right in the temple. Didn’t knock me out but it knocked me silly. I was seeing stars and birdies and everything else,” Benson continued.
The famous story from that incident was that Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand and missed several games. The NBA also slapped him with the largest fine in history then. In those few months Abdul-Jabbar was out, Benson learned one of the greatest lessons one could learn in life.
“He hit me so hard he broke his hand. He was out 21 games and had the largest fine in NBA history at the time. That gave me an opportunity to learn about forgiveness. I had forgiven him. It was hard to do, no doubt.”
It all sounds cheesy. But we rarely hear an NBA player forgiving another player soon after a rough incident. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal as well as Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas took years before they could look each other in the eye. Benson needed just a few months to understand and forgive Abdul-Jabbar. Sure, Benson didn’t live up to his status as a first overall pick. But forgiving someone is legendary behavior.