Famous Enough

famousenoughThe new California magazine runs my profile of Rod Benson, probably the most famous pro basketball player in the world who’s never played a minute in the NBA. This was a fun one to report and write.

The sun hangs low over Manhattan Beach, giving the ocean a SoCal-postcard glow. Inside a fratty, nautically themed bar, Rod Benson is doing shots of vodka with his buddies. As usual, he has drawn a crowd. A fireplug-shaped guy with a tiny, feral mustache tries to impress Benson with his knowledge of Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art. A couple of blonde, tattooed women trade flirty insults with him. On the margins, a shirtless and very sunburned dude sways on his feet, drawn to the spectacle.

Benson, who is 6’10”, is dressed in a black-and-neon-yellow tank top, shorts, and enormous basketball shoes. At the request of one of the blondes, he extends his arms to show his 7’3” wingspan. He explains all of the attention this way: “I’m both tall enough and black enough to make people wonder, ‘Is he famous?’”

In fact, Benson is sort of famous: He’s arguably the best known pro basketball player to have never played in the NBA.