I've gone back and forth about posting this for a few years now because it's a great story but on the other hand it brings attention and I don't think any of the parties involved want attention. Read it, enjoy it (or not) - then forget about it - I really don’t think Beno nor my friends want any publicity from this so I hope everyone can respect that.
A little background - A close friend of mine has a son that is the same age as one of BJax's kids. Their kids went to school together and during daily drop offs & pickups at the school parking lot they struck up a friendship. That friendship eventually turned to business when Bobby decided he wanted to move and my buddy found him his new home. That eventually led to a few more players working with my friend and his wife to buy/sell houses.
Not long after he became friends with Bobby he started to notice some changes in his speech and in his muscle control. Months went by and it was getting worse - he started heading to the doctor for every test known to man and after months of various doctor visits they finally diagnosed him with ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease. A virtual death sentence where the average life expectancy after diagnosis is 2-3 years. I can't begin to describe the pain of hearing that when he was in his mid-forties, had a wife, and a kid that was 8. Obviously we were devastated.
My friend continued to work as much as he could but within a year he ended up in the hospital where they were forced to put him on a vent to breath and a feeding tube. He spent a week in ICU, two months in the hospital and was eventually released to home where he was now bed-bound and unable to speak; communicating by moving his eyelids as you spell out words.
Beno was referred to my friends by one of the other players. He was looking for a more permanent place after signing his big contract. When he had started to get sick my friend had made sure his wife, who had worked as his assistant for years, get licensed as an agent so she could have something to fall back on if/when he couldn't work. She began to work with Beno and his girlfriend on finding a new home and as often happens, struck up a friendship.
It didn't take long for Beno & his girlfriend to figure out something was a bit different with their real estate agent. She'd often refer to her husband as her business partner but they never saw him, she'd sometimes need to take her son along when they were out looking at houses because her husband couldn't watch him, or she'd have to schedule around doctor visits to show houses. Eventually she told them about her husband’s condition and his outlook.
What happened after that was nothing short of amazing if you ask me. You might expect a pro player to vanish quickly and not get involved in such a situation but that is not what Beno did. Beno started showing up at the house. He started picking up their son to take him to a movie or out to eat. Once the season began he started bringing their son to games. He’d call up my friends after a game and ask if their son could come over and watch a movie with him & his girlfriend. He’d show up with a new jersey or a designer beanie, just random gifts after a road trip that showed that even when he was away from home he was still thinking about this kid. This wasn’t a one-time publicity event. Two or three times a week Beno was doing something with their son. While he was having a horrible season on the court and getting crucified on the message boards he was simultaneously taking it upon himself to take care of this kid who had just been told his dad was going to die. This lasted the entire season until Beno and his girlfriend went away on summer vacation.
I watched Beno during that season with mixed emotions. My favorite player of all-time is A.C. Green - the toughest player to play the game and a class act all the way. To watch Beno ‘compete’ three years ago, or should I say not compete, was beyond frustrating for me as a Kings fan and went completely against what I want in a player. I value effort and heart over skills and bravado on the basketball court. I didn’t see that effort and heart from Beno on the court that year but what I saw off the court was more effort and more heart than just about any person that I’ve been able to witness in my lifetime.
I know I’m sounding a bit melodramatic when I say this but what Beno did that year was nothing short of saving one boy’s childhood. Thrust into a situation where his father can’t speak to him, can’t give him a hug, let alone the things a father typically does with a son like play catch or throw a football around, there was not a lot of joy in that house. Hope, but not much joy. All of the family and friends took the time to help out but the focus always remained on our sick friend and keeping him alive. There wasn’t a lot of focus on play time or the fact that a young boy had just lost his childhood to a horrible disease. Unintentionally he had become an afterthought.
Beno changed that. He took a kid that was being pushed aside because of time, stress, and circumstances and made him the center of attention. Life for this boy was no longer about medical machines, doctors visits and sitting at his dad’s bedside. It was about having fun, going to a ballgame or hanging out with a friend watching a movie. I’m not sure if Beno did this consciously or if it was merely happenstance; but what he did was allow this kid to be a kid. He taught him to have fun again, that it was okay to enjoy himself, hang out with friends and live his life even if his dad was there in that bed. To me that was far more valuable than anything he could have done on the basketball court.
To this day they remain friends. The movies and ballgames have been pushed aside by schoolwork and little league practice, but the bond is still there through text messages and phone calls. Just last week Beno was making plans to come to a little league game, sit on the bench with the team and sign autographs for all the kids. As for my friend, he’s still here as well. Hope remains as a possible misdiagnosis may point to a form of Lyme’s disease instead of ALS. Unable to move any limb more than a few inches, he still can’t speak and still relies on machines to breath and eat. He’s only left his house once in the past two years but through hours of painstaking physical therapy and effort, he can now sit in a wheel chair and be moved out of his bedroom that was his only view for more than a year. His new favorite view: watching his son play catch in the backyard. Just a kid being a kid.