When Ben Wilson was shot and killed in Nov. 1984, I was just eight years old. Far too young to grasp what his death meant, but old enough to know that it meant something. When you see the bigger kids on your block all huddled up and crying over it, when you see his picture on every news channel and in every newspaper, it isn’t hard to decipher that this wasn’t just an ordinary human being. Not even as a small child.
Originally ran at NBC Chicago, there’s an interesting pathway that players from Chicago have taken since Benji passed away. The talk of “Urban Legends” and the ones that actually made it out of Chicago.
To hear basketball guru Sonny Vaccaro in the film pronounce Ben Wilson as the first actual “phenom” in the world of high school basketball jibes with the way he’s been described by Chicagoans whenever they told his story. The part of the urban legend that was true.
Benji was great.
And that’s not hyperbole. Here was a player from the South side of Chicago who came out of nowhere one summer and emerged as the nation’s best high school basketball player – the first from this city to ever hold that distinction – in a class deep with talent.
Anthony Davis, who took the college basketball world by storm and was the No. 1 pick of the New Orleans Hornets in last June’s draft, literally followed the same path in his rise to basketball stardom while in high school, in an almost symbolic gesture of what Benji’s life would have been like had he lived.
Before he died, Wilson was on the verge of leading Simeon to back-to-back state titles, helping them become the first Chicago Public League School to accomplish the feat. 22 years later, Derrick Rose would complete Wilson’s legacy in that area when he led the Wolverines to their second consecutive state title in 2007 … All while wearing Benji’s No. 25 jersey.
And to hear Billy Moore – the man convicted of murdering Benji – tell the story in the film of what went down on Nov. 20, 1984, is in stark contrast to the police confession and “hood” stories we’ve heard about Wilson’s death that had been told for nearly 30 years … The part of the urban legend that wasn’t true.
Not much has changed in Chicago in the years since Ben Wilson lost his life. Black-on-black crime is still rampant and gun violence on the South side is still at epidemic levels. But the tragedy that was Benji’s life and death, and the cloud that has hung over the city since 1984, was finally lifted on a warm October night in Chicago. Perhaps now, Benji can truly rest in peace and in his spirit, the children of this city will learn to “shoot over brothers, not at them.”