ESPN’s 30 For 30 Film ‘Benji’ And Chicago Urban Legends

Basketball, Films and Docs, From The Go, The Fam — By on October 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm


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.”

Name another 17-year-old who died almost 30 years ago that people still talk about and revere in the present day. You can’t. And that’s when you realize just how special Benji really was. This film touched a lot of people in different ways. How did it touch you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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    6 Comments

  • Rodger Horton says:

    Working with African American males in an educational setting I was able to connect to Benji’s story both educationally and professionally. I mean we tell our kids study hard practice hard and someday you will fufill your dreams. To be on the cusp of that and have it snatched away is heart wrenching. Unfortunately many of our kids live for today and not tomorrow. I think that is the way William Moore was living. I plan on sharing clips of this 30 for 30 with my group of mentee’s in hopes that they will press the pause button before making a life altering decision. It is obvious that the passing of Benji affected those that grew up with him or new of him in the early 80′s. But it is up to them to continue to spread his legacy in hopes that it my decrease some of the gun violence in Chicago. Well put together piece Mr. Crawford.

  • JT says:

    I’m glad 30 for 30 showed this piece, because a lot of younger folks like myself who are not from the Chicago area got to learn about a young hero who maybe didn’t know the whole story about what went down and maybe didn’t realize how good this kid was. Being from the inner city everybody has a sad story that is similiar but maybe not to magnitude because of various reasons.
    I didn’t know He was the reason behind everybody at simeon wearing 25. Hopefully this negative can turn into a positive.Good or bad it did shed light on situations that still plague our youth today.

  • Simeon Alumnist says:

    I graduated from Simeon and I gotta say these brothers did a great job of telling this sad story. I can recall several times throughout my H.S. career when both teachers and coaches who were around the school at that time full out breaking down when telling students/athletes the story of our gymnasium’s aka “the new gym” namesake. One vivid memory I have is of my English teacher my senior year doing the ugly cry in class as she told me and other football players and whoever would listen the story of his demise. As we sat in honors English we learned a lesson more powerful than Shakespeare or Keates could ever write. The one teammate Rodney Hull was actually a Assist. Principal for much of my time there and I was surprised that he actually spoke because he told me his self on several occassions that he avoided the Gym area because of memories attached to Benji. He said that even looking at the student done portrait of Benji that hung near the “new gym” was often too much to see. Although most people outside of Simeon don’t talk about it much; this is a cautionary tell that is constantly repeated by staff and personnel and now former students constantly in and around the city. Want to know why D. Rose is so humble and works so damn hard and avoids silly shit at all cost, watch this documentary.

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