I like to think that I keep my ear pretty close to the ground. If you’re going to know about such perfectly useless things as Kevin Burleson signing in Romania, then you kind of have to. Yet I had absolutely no idea that the Knicks were considering signing Jonathan Bender, nor that they were even able to. Quite literally shocked to see that headline today.
Bender retired in February 2006 after being assumed to have been retired for a long while prior. He had begun to break out in the 2001-02 season when he averaged 7.4 points in 78 games for the Pacers, but not only was that the best he’d ever play, it was also the most he’d ever play. Bender’s games played total plummeted from there on out; from 78 in 2001/02, to 46 in 2002/03, to 21 in 2003/04, to 7 in 2004/05, to only 2 in 2005/06. He suffered from a degenerative knee condition that caused chronic pain due to the destruction of the knee’s cartilage, and there was no way back from that, forcing his retirement. There still isn’t, really, which is why I wrote this when we last covered Bender back in January:
Jonathan Bender is still retired, and probably always will be.
Apparently that was not true, though. Bender is now back, joining up with the general manager that traded for him and gave him the $28 million with which he built his business empire. The league once again has a seven-foot shooting guard, and not the Primoz Brezec type of seven-foot shooting guard.
In his time away from the game, Bender has become a successful entrepreneur. He owns a charitable organisation – the Jonathan Bender foundation – as well as Jonathan Bender Enterprises, a real estate development and property management company. Both of those organisations are based in New Orleans, helping to restore the city’s infrastructure. Bender also owns an Italian wine company, a record label, an island in the Caribbean, multiple real estate holdings (including Kingdom Homes, a company that buys and restores flood-damaged properties in disadvantaged New Orleans neighbourhoods), and is trying to patent a fitness device called “Bender Bands.” As someone of comparable age but completely incomparable success, I am jealous of this.
The last time someone returned from a career-ending injury to play in the NBA was last year, with the whole Darius Miles thing. That saga did not go particularly well – particularly not for Portland – due to all the shenanigans surrounding it. Miles played fairly well in his comeback, which was a plus, but it was all secondary to the drama, and it was not an enviable situation for any of the neutral parties. It finally ended this past summer when the Grizzlies let Miles walk unchallenged, unsatisfied as they were with his performance off the court. (As if to prove them right, Miles then got arrested.)
The last time it happened with the Knicks was with Allan Houston, who made two abortive comebacks in training camps 2007 and 2008 after succumbing to knee injuries in 2005. He never played another NBA game.
However, Bender is only 28 years old. There is no disgrace to be found here. If he can go, he should, and if he can’t, then it costs nothing significant to find out.
What the Knicks stand to gain here is not particularly obvious; Bender stands to be the 15th man in an eight-man rotation, and, given the aforementioned strength of his non-basketball career, he doesn’t appear to need the money. The ignominy of being on the inactive list alongside Cuttino Mobley doesn’t seem like any more of a proud way to go than the original medical retirement, and the risk for the Knicks is that, if he gets hurt again, they’re stuck with paying him.
But hey. Why not. Good luck to him.