Benson: A Pain In The Neck

On: 18 July 2008

Lee Benson
By Tito Talao
Manila Bulletin Online, 18 July 2008

Must have been the sudden freedom, having spent time behind bars, and the liberty to wade freely into wantonness that ultimately brought down Lee Benson, the sacked import of the Sta. Lucia Realtors.

Benson, who Realtors management sent packing the day they faced — and lost to – the Ginebra Kings in a do-or-die PBA Fiesta Conference quarterfinal game Wednesday, had a checkered past and a reputation that preceded him: Lover of the night life, gambler, drug fiend, unreliable, temperamental, irreverent.

"We were warned Benson had an attitude problem, but boss Buddy [Encarnado, the Realtors governor] wanted to give him a second chance," said a team insider.

A desire to give a down-on-his-luck individual a break and a need for a potential savior to a faltering bid for back-to-back championships after two previous imports — Wesley Wilson and Jamar Brown — failed to make the grade.

The Realtors were willing to give it a shot even if his first few hours in the country proved portentous.

"On the day he was fetched at the airport by assistant coach Cholo Martin, Benson went looking for an area that offered wi-fi service, and when he couldn’t find one he got disgusted and asked coach Cholo for his passport," the insider said. "He was going home less than an hour after flying in because he couldn’t use the Internet."

Benson was prevailed upon to stay and his arrival signaled a resurrection for the Realtors, the Philippine Cup champions, as they started piling up wins.

Problems came to the surface, however, when Sta. Lucia’s streak suddenly hit a snag, sending the Exie Robles franchise out of quarterfinal contention and into the perilous wildcard phase.

"He was bar-hopping every night, renting taxi cabs for as long as three straight days," the insider bared.

One time, Benson failed to settle his fare with the cab driver who had waited for him from dusk to dawn. When the chauffer drove to Benson’s place at the Globe Towers on Pioneer Street in Mandaluyong to demand for his fee, the six-foot-eleven import with the menacing demeanor shooed him away.

The taxi driver left but returned shortly with his burly elder brother and two uniformed policemen.

Benson’s assigned team driver who had come to bring him to practice called Encarnado on the phone and informed him of the problem.

"Boss Buddy had to settle the R3,000 fare in exchange for a signed affidavit from the driver that no charges will be filed against Benson," said the insider.

It was around this time that Benson’s New York-born agent who lives in Puerto Rico began calling and asking for his percentage, demanding to know why his Filipino counterpart had been paid ahead of him.

Encarnado, the team insider said, patiently explained to the man that it was not so, but Benson’s agent would have none of it, insisting that his ward be given his passport, plane ticket, and money so he could leave.

It went on and on and it reached the point when Benson informed the team, minutes before they took the floor against the Talk ‘N Text Phone Pals in the wildcard phase, that he was leaving after the game.

Benson had a superb evening -- 27 points and 26 rebounds as Sta. Lucia clinched the fourth and last quarterfinal berth. But his pre-game announcement left the entire Realtors team groping in the dark, with the mighty Ginebra Kings waiting in the best-of-three playoffs.

Benson suited up for the series opener against the Kings Sunday, but the Realtors failed to hang on to a 13-point lead and wound up losing, 92-90.

Two days later, on the eve of their do-or-die meeting with Ginebra, Benson, without any notice, skipped the all-important practice.

It was the last straw for Encarnado, according to the team insider.

The Sta. Lucia official delivered Benson’s passport, plane ticket and money to the Office of the Commissioner for proper disposal.

Encarnado was supposed to have told Commissioner Sonny Barrios: "This has to end. We cannot be held hostage by a blackmailer."

Said the source: "Boss Buddy was unwilling to compromise team integrity for one player who makes a mockery of league rules."

Without Benson in Game 2, the Kings breezed past the Realtors, 113-85, Wednesday at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo, sending them to the best-of-seven semifinals against Red Bull while putting an emphatic end to Sta. Lucia’s dream of a mini-grand slam.

(Postscript: The Realtors later learned that Benson’s agent had booked him to a higher-paying contract in China, making it plain the long-night charades and habitual tardiness were all part of the scheme to get him out of his contract.)

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