Bender Announces End Of Career
The news comes as no surprise, but it is no less sad in its finality.
“Due to a medical condition in my knees, I will not be able to continue playing basketball," Bender said. "I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to spend six seasons with the Indiana Pacers and I want to thank the organization for their support and encouragement. I learned how to be a professional from the best GM in the business, Donnie Walsh, and one of the all-time greatest basketball players, Hall of Famer Larry Bird. The Pacers gave me a chance to play with -- and against -- the best basketball players in the world. That is an experience I will cherish forever.
"Pacers fans are the best in the league and I will never forget their loyalty and the way they embraced me when I came to this city as a young man. As difficult as it is for me right now not to be playing basketball, I know that I will always have the memories of my teammates, the fans, and Pacers management. For that, I am grateful.”
Bender played six seasons with the Pacers, but was plagued by injuries. His best season was 2001-02 when he played 78 games, averaging 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. He played just two games this season before chronic soreness in his left knee sidelined him. Bender was the Toronto Raptors’ first-round draft pick (fifth overall) in the 1999 NBA draft. The Pacers acquired him Aug. 8, 1999, from the Raptors in exchange for Antonio Davis.
"I feel really sad about the fact he was probably one of the most talented players we ever brought in here," said CEO and President Donnie Walsh. "He had such great promise as a player. And right as he was getting into form, bingo, his legs go bad on him and he never had a chance to really show it. There were flashes here and there but he never really get a chance to get out and show what he was. And he did every single thing he could do to overcome the problem with his knees, but he couldn't do it."
Bender played in just two games this season after missing 75 in 2004-05 and 61 in 2003-04 as his knee problems mounted. The Pacers can apply to the NBA for salary cap relief under an exception for players who suffer career-ending injuries. The remainder of Bender's salary will be paid by an insurance policy.
"I'm sad for him and his family," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "A situation like this couldn't happen to a more undeserving person because Jonathan is a great kid and really wanted to play basketball in the worst way, and he wanted to help this franchise in the worst way. I know he's set up to move into some other things in his life because he's a smart kid and he's planned out his life after basketball well.
"It'll be one of the questions when you look back, how good this guy could've been. I'm not sure there was any limit to his potential, but it was just not to be, unfortunately."
Bender's teammates had similar sentiments. They were witness to practice performances that were often the buzz of the franchise but rarely translated into games.
"Some days that people didn't get to see, some days in practice, he looked like the best player on this team," said Fred Jones. "He's that athletic. He's that skilled. It's really unfortunate he's not able to showcase everything he's been blessed with."
"It's a shame he never really got the opportunity to show people what he can do," said Austin Croshere. "We obviously saw glimpses of it in practice and in games. Obviously, the potential for him was unlimited. Any time a career gets short you feel sorry for him and that's obviously the case for Jonathan but he's a well-rounded young man who's got a great family and there's no doubt he'll be able to move on with his life. "