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He once showed up at a game with two left shoes, then went out and played as if he had two left feet.

He once left tickets "for the guy from the airport," because he didn't know the name of the man he had met earlier in the day.He once sat out three weeks of the season because of oral surgery.

Today, he's worth $18 million to $20 million over the next five years.

Ah, yes, to Benoit Benjamin this is indeed a great country.

It has always been easy to pick on the 7-foot Benjamin. He says such silly things. For example, when he was traded to Seattle three weeks ago he proclaimed that leaving the Los Angeles Clippers was a great move for "Team Benjamin."


He wears 00 on his back, which Dick Vitale said represented his intensity level.

One of his agents is Don King.

On and on it goes.

But Benjamin also has come to symbolize what is wrong with the NBA.

This is a league where someone was willing to pay Jon Koncak $13 million and John Williams $26.5 million, and now Benjamin has become one of the game's highest-paid players.

That is despite the fact that Benjamin never was an All-Star, and his team never has been in the playoffs. Granted, the team was the Clippers, but Benjamin became an example of what was wrong with the Clippers - young underachievers who are overpaid.

Nonetheless, the Clippers offered Benjamin a five-year, $16 million contract extension starting next season, and Benjamin turned it down.

That was dumb - not what Benjamin did, but the Clippers offering that ransom in the first place.

To their credit, the Clippers had a stroke of sanity, shipping Benjamin to Seattle for Olden Polynice and two first-round draft picks.

The Sonics promptly acted as if a young Bill Russell had arrived in town. They said that Benjamin combined with Shawn Kemp and Derrick McKey to give them "the front line of the future." They said what Benjamin had was a bad rap, not a bad attitude. They started ordering championship rings.

Finally, they said they had to sign Benjamin before he became an unrestricted free agent this summer when the likes of the LA Lakers and the Golden State Warriors would grab him.

How the Warriors, Lakers and other teams would fit Benjamin under their salary caps is a question apparently no one bothered to ask.

So Seattle gave him $2 million on top of his $1 million salary for $3 million this season. (Just for the record, that's more than Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird will earn.)

Hearing that, NBA people just nodded their heads and said, "That's right, the Sonics had to get him signed."

Wait a minute.

Where was the gun?

Say what?

You know, the gun someone must have put to the Sonics heads to force them to deal for this oft-slothful center.

Look, Benjamin is a middle-of-the-pack NBA center, and better than that when the moon is in the proper phase. He should have a job. By the current bloated basketball market, his old salary of $1 million was about right.

In other words, the Sonics didn't have to do any of this preposterous business with Benjamin. No one forced them to trade for him, and no one made them give him everything but the Puget Sound.

But that's life in the NBA. The guy is 7-foot, he's breathing and he has no felonies on his record - give 'im $20 million.

Don't bother to ask, "Even when Benjamin is good, how good is that?"

He had 13 points and 13 rebounds against the Cavaliers on Monday night - decent numbers, his usual numbers.

But Brad Daugherty held Benjamin to a single bucket in the second half. He dominated Benjamin in every aspect, and he does it at half the price.

Finally, Benjamin is known throughout the NBA as a terrible defender on the pick-and-roll play. He simply steps back and lets his man take the open 15-footer - which Daugherty did all night en route to 27 points on 13-for-18 shooting.

If Benjamin were an isolated case, it could be excused. But giving this guy those kind of bucks . . . it is like the Rock of Gibraltar falling into the sea - there will be waves there.

Daugherty can say to himself, "If this guy is worth $20 million, then I should get $40 million."

Or Chris Dudley can say: "I'm at least half as good as that guy; I'm worth $10 million. I always bring my shoes to the game and I have my dental work done in the summer."

It may even be enough to make someone say John Williams should renegotiate.

Don't misunderstand. The league is loaded. The players deserve what they can get, but the teams should pay attention to whom they pay what.

Because if Benoit Benjamin is a $4-million-a-year player, then what is proper pay for Jordan, the Johnsons (Kevin and Magic), Daugherty, Mark Price or any other All-Star?

Maybe teams should think more about that dilemma.

Nah . . . it's simpler to just pay now and let someone else worry about it later.