By: Kevin Clark
With the fifth pick during the 1999 NBA Draft, theToronto Raptors selected Jonathan Rene Bender. Bender, a 7-foot-tall prospect from
He was then traded to the Indiana Pacers for Antonio Davis. Bender’s size, athleticism, and skill complimented the Pacers style of play. This never progressed to stats, as Bender proved disappointing. At the end of his career, Bender totaled out at 1,335 points and 530 rebounds (combined offensive and defensive). Having never averaged double digits in scoring and plagued with injuries, Bender sat out most of the 2004-2005 season after playing only seven games.
At the end of his playing career, Bender was waved by his team and retired on February of this year. Never one to be counted out, the 25-year-old Mississippian is building himself into a powerful brand. He sits down with HipHopCrack as he talks about his retirement, his upcoming projects, and why people nowadays don’t really respect a daily grind.
HHC: You were drafted straight out of High School, although, you had a verbal commitment to
JB: Actually, I did the verbal commitment when I got out of High School to get the press off of my back. You have to look at things like you’re playing chess. Especially, when you’re indecisive about going to college, the press will try and pinpoint it. Then after that, they’ll make it a focus and I really didn’t want that type of attention. So, it was all a strategy that I had planned.
HHC: Do you think that
JB: Yes, I really think that it is. In
HHC: Scouts felt that you were the perfect fit with the Raptors and the Pacers for your size, athleticism and just plain skills. Although, your career was plagued with injuries, your high school accomplishments were lauded. Do you think the transition from high school directly into the League left you somewhat unprepared?
JB: I was prepared it was just that training and practicing that I was doing in High School had a long term affect on my body. I am glad that I got out of the league before anything serious could happen. The type of training that we were doing wasn’t beneficial good for me during my growth spurt. We were doing a lot of jumping drills and running on the hardwood. That meant a lot of pounding on the knees. Even outside of basketball, when we would get finished with practice, we would continue to ball on the street. So, you’ve went from an inside court to running up and down on concrete. That wears after awhile. Plus, growing up… and even still, you don’t have anyone in your early stages that is there to help you train efficiently.
HHC: In the final days of your NBA career, you were waived by the Pacers in 2006 after previously being limited to seven games during the 2004-05 season. Do you think that you were “forced” into retirement by your former team?
JB: Nah, I wasn’t forced at all. The team was behind me 120%. After that first year when I came back, I decided to keep my sanity and I had got myself back together. But I had the same pains. Then, I took a couple of MRIs and it showed that my knees weren’t getting any better. The doctor kept asking me what I wanted to do. At the time, I told him that I wanted to keep going. So, we kept trying but it became progressively worse.
HHC: But you have yet to file retirement papers. Why? Are you still collecting checks from the team?
JB: No, I didn’t sign the papers because you never know. I’m really just taking a year or two off to really try and heal up. If you sign those papers, you’re not allowed to come back. I would make a return if I’m mentally and physically prepared for it. If I can maintain on the court then I’ll continue to try.
HHC: Having moved on from professional basketball, you’ve dabbled into real estate and entertainment. What should we expect from you with “Retired at 25”…?
JB: The show is basically just about me; it is about me and my life. I was always into music before I played ball. I have a label called Akright Records. A lot of athletes get stereotyped because they have some sort of boutique label. They try to say that they don’t know what they’re doing. But “Retired at 25” is just to show that I have a deep passion for all of the things that I do. I work really hard, despite what others may think of athletes. My daily grind is serious – from boxing to the real estate company to my recording label, I oversee everything that goes on.
HHC: You also have a Hip-Hop cooking show? Obviously, Hip-Hop is the selling point, but what else should viewers be looking forward to with this show?
JB: The cooking show is more original and looser. The chefs dance and really have a great charisma on screen. Personally, it’s on some
HHC: It seems that Hip-Hop and the NBA have a love-hate thing going on, yet, the players seem to all cool within the culture. You, yourself, have a recording label called Akright Records. Do you see this as a successful venture even after failed attempts by Allen Iverson and
JB: Nah, I don’t like people who just take it as a hobby. I work hard everyday with everything that I do. My daily schedule starts off by me going to the gym. Then from there to the studio; I have credibility with all that I do. It is hard to pick out the real from the fake because there are people out there who have a like for what they do and then there are those who have the love. I’m not one of those lackluster homeboys. I’m into this for the gusto. I have the love for this. I get up at around 7 or 8 in the morning, eat breakfast, I stop to talk with my boxers – we’re putting an album together, so we’re getting the credit sheet together. I stay in the office to work on getting sample clearances with the lawyers. After that, I go to work out. I go to [producer] KLC’s studio in
HHC: For you record label, you’ve concentrated your attention on your hometown and
JB: I focused on home because that’s where I’m from. Plus, I believe that there is untapped talent that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. I think that all of the artists signed to Akright bring their own flavor. They’re all going to appeal to the ladies. But I think that Young A, Shawt, and Nosa have a strong future ahead of them. All we have to do is grind hard for us to have something to shock the world with.
HHC: For such a young guy – even though you’re older than me [laughs] – you’ve been able to dabble into a lot of things including real estate. What is it about that next level of professionalism that opens up so many opportunities?
JB: It just shows that you’ve laid a foundation. That you’ve worked hard for something. Being a professional is like having a stamp, a mark of approval from your peers. It means that you have credentials. It really takes time to achieve that. Once you get that stamp, people respect you because they see you doing your thing. When people are following you they understand that you have a movement behind you.
HHC: Why don’t more Black athletes school the youth to the alternatives instead of seemingly encouraging kids to pick up a ball?
JB: Because a lot of people like fast money and don’t respect a daily grind. It’s instant money if you have skills. We have a lot of athletic brothers who can make that jump into football and basketball, but not a lot of consciously forward thinking people. There are some people who decide to go into real estate. Other wait until their career is over to try and branch out to create another business. So, a lot of people have the ingenuity, but a lot of others haven’t. Those who haven’t really have the entourages and are really materialistic. They just aren’t taking hold of the opportunities. It’s sad.