Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kent Benson are two of the most accomplished players in NBA history. They have very different stories about how their careers ended, but both say they were sucker punched by an opponent. The resulting injuries led to record fines for each player.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a basketball player who was born in 1947. He is 6’9 tall and weighs 240 pounds. Kent Benson is a basketball player who was born in 1974. He is 6’7 tall and weighs 220 pounds.
The 1977-78 NBA season, like Kent Benson’s professional basketball career, got off to a rocky start. Benson, the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round selection in the 1977 NBA Draft, made his NBA debut against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Los Angeles Lakers in the season opener. After Abdul-Jabbar sucker-punched Benson with a right hook, the two players were only on the floor for two minutes.
Benson saw stars, while Abdul-Jabbar went to the hospital with a fractured hand as a result of the hit. Abdul-Jabbar was hit with a record-breaking fine. Benson’s account of the event differs from that of the former Lakers center, who recently talked about it.
On Oct. 18, 1977, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kent Benson had a nasty altercation.
During a game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers comes onto the floor wearing a 1970s-style Lakers polo shirt. | Getty Images/Focus on Sport
Benson had just been in the league for two minutes when he became embroiled in a dispute. The 6-foot-10, 235-pound Benson, who was drafted first overall out of Indiana, faced up against one of the league’s greatest in Abdul-Jabbar. Benson was playing in front of his home fans in his first regular-season game.
The two huge guys were being aggressive with one other from the start. As the two fought for position in the paint, there was some elbowing. Benson then elbowed Abdul-Jabbar in the stomach/groin region, escalating the situation. While the game continued, Abdul-Jabbar took a step back to collect himself and keeled down for a few seconds.
He returned to protect Benson and then sucker-punched him on the right side of the head, knocking him out. Abdul-Jabbar received a $5,000 fine and a tongue-lashing from then-NBA Commissioner Lawrence F. O’Brien for his conduct.
According to The New York Times, “the fact that a single, quick act of aggression resulted in injuries to two players brings up the risk and irresponsibility of such conduct.” “This kind of behavior will not be allowed and will result in appropriate punishment.” Every player in the NBA has been informed that I am opposed to fighting during games, regardless of the circumstances. I will utilize all force at my disposal to keep the NBA free of violence.”
The players’ union unsuccessfully contested the record fine.
The association’s attorney, Larry Fleisher, stated, “We’re uncomfortable about fighting on the court and we’ve spoken about it at our meetings.” “That isn’t the point of the NBA.” Fining a player $5,000, on the other hand, irritates me just as much. I don’t care how much money he makes; that’s fantastic.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talked briefly about the event lately.
Let us take a moment to enjoy the present moment. Kareem planned to shatter his face when Kent Benson cheap shot him. The fine of $5000 was well worth it.
May 26, 2021 — Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports)
After the event, Abdul-Jabbar refused to talk to reporters. He did, however, bring it up recently during an appearance on former teammate Byron Scott’s podcast.
The event was brought up by Scott.
On his Off the Dribble podcast, Scott stated, “The Kent Benson incident, when Kent Benson elbowed you, it was simply a premeditated elbow.” “Anybody can look at this on YouTube.” He struck you just where you were bending over. As the game progressed, you collected yourself, squared up, and simply shouted POW, knocking him out.”
Abdul-Jabbar only talked about it grudgingly.
As Scott informed him that Benson deserved it, he replied, “I’m really sorry I did that.” “I shattered my hand.” (Benson’s elbow) was a low-cost, deceptive shot. He did it because his coach, Don Nelson, told him that if he wanted to be successful, he needed to beat me up. He’d just created a dilemma for himself. I made sure he knew I understood how to play every time I met him after that.”
Abdul-Jabbar, according to Benson, was the one who began it all.
Benson had a different take on how the entire thing went down. He described the incident in a YouTube video from 2014, pointing the blame onto Abdul-Jabbar as the initiator.
“I faced the Los Angeles Lakers and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in my NBA debut,” Benson recalled. “We get the tip and come down, and Brian Winters takes a shot from the outside and misses.” I leap over Kareem, rebound, and re-insert the ball.
“He elbows me many times on the way back down the floor. I raced him down the street to his favorite location for his renowned hook shot. He grabs his elbow and slams it into my chest as he descends. I push him back as we jostle for position. I don’t mean anything by it, but I push him away.
“He puts on a huge show like he’s in pain.” He knelt and fell back about 10 feet. He seems to be checking to see whether the authorities are watching. Because he’s back behind me, I’m watching the ball come down the court. He gets a jump on me and sucker-punches me in the temple. It didn’t knock me out, but it did make me laugh. I was seeing stars, birds, and all sorts of things.
“He slammed into me so forcefully that he shattered his hand.” He was sidelined for 21 games at the time and had the biggest find in NBA history. That provided me with a chance to study forgiveness. He had been forgiven by me. Without a doubt, it was a difficult task.”
In any event, it was a smear on the NBA’s reputation — and on Benson’s as well.
RELATED: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Requested a Rule Exception from Pat Riley, and It May Have Helped the Lakers Win the 1985 NBA Championship
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