Thoughts Following the Passing of Mr. Benson

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Published: March 18, 2018

It’s been a couple days since Tom Benson passed away. I’m not going to go into his importance, because it’s obvious, and the same goes for how it’s a loss for his family and the community.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Thanks for everything.

Rather than do all that, I wanted to share some things for various reasons.

  • I’ve talked about the ownership situation before and at length. To be correct, it requires more text that I want to commit in this kind of post, but just keep in mind these things:
    • The real essence of the ownership of the teams is via a trust, so it’s control and the beneficiary, not ownership, that changes upon death. The actual ownership change happened before. Same for other property in other trusts. It’s been given, so need to need handle it upon death.
    • Benson was very on his game with how to set up these things. The issues with the trust before had to do with legal challenges stemming from changes in the people controlling the teams, not with the overall setup. Particularly, which assets were in which trusts. In fact, that the trust was intentionally defective shows the foresight, since it allowed the changes he desired.
    • The people involved have been involved for a while, and the transition has been in work for some time (I’ve been sharing the details, roughly, since Benson took over). I have no reason to expect any change in real approach to the teams, goals, policies . . . OR LOCATIONS.
    • These people, to the extent I know them, seem like good people. They are genuine and have a real care for their employees and the community. Yes, it is a business, and no one is perfect, but Bensonia is, in my estimation, in good hands. It comes down to the people.
  • Mr. Benson was criticized for paying too much for the Pelicans, then when the value went up the idea spread that it was just an investment for him. Neither is true. Summarizing here:
    • Benson wasn’t interested in the team so much as he was interested in it not leaving New Orleans. Once it became clear to him that was a real possibility, he looked into it. Upon investigating the situation, they found the franchise in far worse shape than commonly understood and saddled with other issues. His advisers, those he trusted with his empire, advised him to pass.
    • Later, it became clear the situation was even more in flux (due in part to Chouest relying more on partners), he decided to buy the team (and Stern quickly agreed as Benson was a preferred partner). He told his people, I’m buying the team and you can run it or someone else will run it, you decide. They decided to run the team.
    • They made a poorer financial decision (at least short term) that has worked out medium-term, but Mr. Benson was thinking about the region, not his pocketbook, otherwise he would have been in from the get-go because of the long-term gain or he would have passed because of the issues with the team at the time of purchase.
  • The idea was pervasive among some that Benson was cheap. No. He was a good businessman. He allowed his people to do their jobs and was involved with the big calls while letting people do their jobs. On the NBA side, he was always willing to pay the tax in the right situation. This is a fact. Moreover, the right situation is not pie-in-the-sky type lip service; it’s real. They’ve overpaid players, traded cost-controlled contracts for market-driven ones (or overpays of those according to some), he’s chipped in millions in continuing improvements to facilities, and more. The win-now thing was just as stupid. These won’t change because they were not a part of ownership. Davis drives the timeline and everything else, and the real stewardship remains intact. Remember when I told you exactly what Loomis’ role was time and time again?
  • I was at a few events with Mr. Benson. I rode in an elevator once (with just a couple other people). They were going up, said they had room for one more . . . no one else stepped forward, so I took my shot. Seemed a nice thing on his part. I don’t think many octogenarian billionaires are so thoughtful to random scruffy writers. My interactions with the inner circle have been similar in feeling for those I’ve met (not none, not all). Maybe you don’t care, but I see it as just a little data.
  • At another occasion, I saw him taking questions. Someone asked him a question that was a little testy. He got the guy to repeat it a couple times. When Mrs. Gayle gently tried to tell him what the guy was saying, he seemed assure her he heard and was just sandbagging. I’m sure he had some hearing issues a few years ago, but I think he used it to his advantage from time to time. Jim Brown said to get up slowly every time so they never know when they hurt you. That’s some savvy street smarts, and I bet Mr. Benson had some of that on top of all the rest of his gifts.

I’m sure a man with as much reach as he did has left many interesting and boring stories, big and small with a large number of people across his 90 years. Remember the stories and share them. They are part of the legacy.

Thanks to Mr. Benson, we all have so many more to tell today and tomorrow so those little parts of us and our lives live on just a bit longer than we will.

Thanks for everything and just a little bit more.

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