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Down To An Art

Oct 20, 2022
Cal men's basketball alumnus Rod Benson (right) poses with Cal Athletic Hall-of-Famers and football alumni Justin Forsett (left) and Marshawn Lynch (center).

When former Cal basketball player Rod Benson was asked to make a painting of former Golden Bear football stars Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett, he wasn't just flattered that someone was interested in his talents.

It was who was doing the flattering that made an extra impact.

"It wasn't only validating to myself as an artist, but you're going to get a sense of pride that you are doing something if it gets the attention of the University of California, Berkeley," Benson said. "I hadn't felt that connection in a long time."

Benson led the Bears in scoring and rebounding as a junior in 2004-05 and eventually played 12 years professionally worldwide, including a prolonged stint in South Korea. But Benson always had interests off the court. He was a published writer and eventually began pursuing his passion as a painter.

He started to establish his name as an artist, and when Lynch and Forsett were elected to the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame last year, Benson received a call from former Cal Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing John Corwin asking if he could paint an iconic moment between the teammates that was captured on television during the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl.

The moment took place on the Cal sideline during the Bears' 35-28 victory over BYU. As Lynch was in the process of racking up 194 rushing yards and three touchdowns, an ESPN camera zeroed in on him. Lynch yelled at Forsett to join him, and when he did, Lynch pulled Forsett close and yelled "This is the man right here!"

Benson took a freeze frame of the interaction and played around with different Cal marks to incorporate into the painting. It was initially expected to be unveiled at last year's Cal Athletics Hall of Fame banquet, but it was postponed because of COVID-19. A year later, the painting will be on display this weekend during the 2022 Hall of Fame weekend.

Lynch and Forsett are two of 15 legends to be enshrined into the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame this weekend. The 2022 induction ceremony will be held this evening and the new Hall-of-Famers will also be recognized during Saturday's football game against Washington at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. The first 10,000 fans at Saturday's game will receive a free print of Benson's painting.

The original painting will be unveiled during an on-field ceremony at Saturday's game.

Benson was at Cal during the same time as Lynch and Forsett. Benson said he followed the football players' NFL careers while Forsett said he was always aware that Benson had talents off the basketball court.

"I always knew he was super talented," Forsett said. "To have someone else create art of you like that – that's pretty special. It's super humbling. It's an honor to be able to have an impact with what you do."

Benson said he was very active in the arts during his childhood, and won awards for his work. His retirement from professional basketball allowed him to reignite his interest in the arts, and he's glad that renewed interest has led him back to Berkeley.

"It's truly been a really fantastic ride," Benson said. "I've met so many other interesting people who are artists, and even more people who are collectors. I'm getting the opportunity to come back to Berkeley and share that gift. I don't think when I graduated that would have been my thought as to what would bring me back, but here we are."

Benson's time in Berkeley was one of discovery, calling it "the most important time of my life."

"Berkeley is where I learned how many more people thought the way I thought, and wanted to live in a better world," he said. "We challenged each other in the best ways. Any young person who has an opportunity to live in that environment is a blessed person."