Worst Headcase Ever

On: 21 July 2008

Lee Benson

By Joaquin M. Henson, "Sporting Chance"
The Philippine Star, 20 July 2008

In over 10 years providing the PBA with imports, sports agent Mike Gonzalez said yesterday he’s never come across a more despicable headcase than Sta. Lucia Realty’s discredited Lee Benson.

"He’s the worst of them all," said Gonzalez. "I’ve spoken with Commissioner (Sonny) Barrios about the PBA not giving Benson his FIBA clearance. This will make it difficult for Benson to play in any international league except perhaps in China where they don’t seem to recognize a FIBA clearance."

Gonzalez said when Benson left Manila last week, he flew directly to China where his New York agent Jose Paris arranged a contract in conflict with his Sta. Lucia commitment.

Gonzalez, 58, has delivered over 50 imports to the PBA through the years and was responsible for bringing in talents like Torraye Braggs, Damien Owens, Julius Nwosu, Tony Lang, Galen Young and Kwan Johnson.

A La Salle graduate, Gonzalez lived in Los Angeles over 30 years before resettling back here in 2006. He still represents PBA cagers MacMac Cardona, Ryan Reyes, Jimmy Alapag and Sonny Thoss but said he’s now spending less and less time in basketball.

"I’ve been lucky to represent a lot of athletes like Norman Black but lately, it’s been difficult to act as an agent because players don’t really keep their part of the bargain," said Gonzalez. "If I were to compute what players owe me, I think the amount would be something like P9 Million. So when a player approaches me to act as his agent, I don’t even bother signing a contract. I just do it to help him out with no conditions whatsoever."

* * *

Gonzalez said Benson, an ex-convict, was a headache from Day 1.

"Every day he was here, he threatened to leave – that was how bad it was," said Gonzalez. "When he arrived, he wanted to take the first flight out because he couldn’t get internet access in his apartment. I think he thought the entire Manila was a wi-fi hot spot. I was walking on thin ice throughout his stay. I’ve managed imports with idiosyncrasies before but never as severe as Benson. I remember problems about Nwosu who didn’t like to practice but nobody complained the way he played in a game."

Gonzalez said there was no question as to Benson’s ability.

"I’ve followed his career and I know what he can do," said Gonzalez. "At first, Coach Boyet (Fernandez) was wary because of his prison history. His agent (Paris) insisted on getting a contract. My mistake was putting him in touch directly with Mr. (Buddy) Encarnado. Paris promised the moon and even told Mr. Encarnado not to pay his commission if he wasn’t happy with Benson."

Appearing desperate for a job, Benson agreed to fly in on a two-week guarantee. His contract stipulated a graduated salary to be paid every two weeks and renewable on a game-to-game basis.

Gonzalez suspected while Benson was in the PBA, Paris negotiated a China deal where salaries range from US$ 25,000 to US$ 35,000 a month.

Things worsened when Benson had an altercation with a taxi driver whom he had contracted for three days to drive him around town two weeks ago. The scuttlebutt was on the third day, the driver missed Benson who got out of a nightclub very late and took another taxi to his apartment on Pioneer Street. The driver later went to the apartment and asked to be paid but Benson refused. The driver called for the police and Benson even wrestled a nightstick away from one of the responding officers.

"Mr. Encarnado bailed him out of trouble and paid off the driver but Benson showed no respect for team management," said Gonzalez. "Then he threatened to leave before Sta. Lucia’s knockout wildcard game against Talk ‘N’ Text. Sta. Lucia won with Benson playing really well. So he stayed for another game to start the quarterfinals. Then, he missed practice the day before the next game against Ginebra."

* * *

Gonzalez said on the day of the second Ginebra game, Benson demanded to be paid what was owed him on a pro rata basis even if his salary wasn’t due. He even wanted to be paid for the practice days he missed and the game that night.

"He became totally unreasonable and disrespectful like he wanted to be kicked out of the team so he could just go to China," said Gonzalez. "It was the height of unprofessionalism. He agreed to come over on specific terms but didn’t live up to what he committed to."

Gonzalez said the incident could’ve been avoided if he didn’t put Paris directly in contact with Encarnado and if the PBA scheduled its import conference way before the leagues in China, Korea and Japan start recruiting players.

"Too many cooks messed it up," said Gonzalez, referring to Paris. "Sta. Lucia was very professional in dealing with Benson but they were just so unreasonable. Mr. Encarnado must be commended for sticking to his principles and standing up to Benson."

Gonzalez said even as he still keeps a special place in his heart for basketball, there are now other priorities in his life. He’s been busy managing his own company Talk 24/7, a telecommunications wholesaler that is involved in internet protocol with large US accounts like Sprint and AT&T.

"My wife (Jojo) and our children are still in Los Angeles," said Gonzalez. "Eventually, my wife and I will retire here. At the moment, I’m full-time with Talk 24/7 and I haven’t been back in L. A. for a year. I’ll spend Christmas with my family though. Meanwhile, if there’s anything in basketball I can do, I’ll be around. It’s the game we all love."

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