November 19th, 2012 by Nat Black-Heaven
WHAT IF I TOLD YOU…? A promise lives forever. In 1984, 17-year-old Ben Wilson was America’s most talented basketball prospect until the sweet-natured boy was senselessly murdered.
1984: Chicago. A great time for Windy City-born African Americans. Oprah Winfrey was blowing up, Jesse Jackson was preaching to all, the great Michael Jordan had just signed with the Chicago Bulls and Benjamin Wilson caught the whole city’s attention.
At 17 years old ‘Benji’ was known as the best high school basketball player in the nation. Standing 6’ 7” tall, the Chicago native could do it all. He had shot smooth as silk, a finger roll so sweet you’d have thought you were watching the Ice Man himself, George Gervin. But most of all, he was a winner.
ESPN Films 30 for 30 tells the story of this young man’s journey to basketball stardom and how in a matter of seconds you can go from living the dream to having your dreams crushed. With interviews from neighbors, classmates, close friends and family members. “Benji” brings us into the life of a legend and how he affected the lives of so many even after he was taken from us.
Benji was a natural born ball player but as a freshman not even he could get consistent minutes on the multi-talented Simeon High School basketball squad.
It was not until his sophomore year that this dude started making some serious noise. Blocking shots, rim-height rebounds, ferocious dunks, no-look passes and of course; that smooth jump shot. Nike had officially declared Wilson as the #1 high school prospect after he had led his team to its first state title and dominated the national Nike basketball camp. He was on the rise and there was no one that could stop him.
Then … one fateful November afternoon after an altercation with two youths, Benjamin Wilson was shot twice. He did not survive. Yet, his life told us many things, most of all being that success is not given. It’s granted; and Benji continues to live on as a beacon of hope for all aspiring young people everywhere.
When I was in seventh grade all I would hear about is how cold this basketball player at Simeon by the name of Benji was. When Simeon would play my neighborhood high school (Percy L. Julian) we would run all the way up there just to get a glimpse of Ben Wilson playing but could not get in because we were only in grammar school. We had a plan for next year but never had the opportunity. Before the season started the next year, I woke up and heard on the news that Ben Wilson died. I cried like a baby! The city cried like babies. In a gang-divided city, his death changed the way we looked at each other. We started looking at each other like brothers instead of enemies.
When we had the opportunity to tell Ben Wilson’s story, we thought it was great timing, seeing all the killing that’s going on not only in Chicago but also around the world. We want to make the thugs cry! We want them to understand how powerful a gun is. When you shoot a person not only does it destroy the person and his/her family’s lives, but it also destroys theirs, and possibly an entire city. You never would know what either of you would have become.
We hope this film resonates to these young men in the streets the way it did for us. Ben Wilson’s death saved thousands of lives in Chicago, now we hope his story saves millions of lives around the world.
Director: Coodie Simmons
“The heart of “Benji” is the interviews with friends, teammates and brothers, men in their 40s and 50s whose sadness is subsumed in their eagerness to recall the magic he dispensed on the basketball court.”
Mike Hale – The New York Times
“[Co-directors] Coodie and Chike paint a picture of a sweet and innocent kid who had the best possible foundation you could ask for living in Chicago’s south side. He was involved in athletics to keep him out of gangs and he was enrolled in a school that was considered safe. But, of course, there are always dangers, even unlikely ones, on every street.”
Will Eidam – The Austin Chronicle
COMING SOON in the 30 for 30 Volume Two Season
Check local listings for premiere and repeats screenings for Vol 2 films, as well as re-runs of archive ESPN Films
“Ghosts of Ole Miss” – In 1962, the University of Mississippi erupted in violence over integration while swelling with pride over an unbeaten football team.
“You Don’t Know Bo” – Vincent ‘Bo’ Jackson hit 500-foot home runs and ran over linebackers. A look at the man and the myths of a two-sport legend and pop culture icon that captured our collective imagination.
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