Imagine for a moment an NBA without LeBron James. Think how different basketball might be without Derrick Rose or Kobe Bryant. Imagine never watching Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson play because they were tragically murdered before either played for North Carolina and Michigan State.
Nobody knows if Ben Wilson would have achieved such heights in the NBA had he not been murdered in 1984. And that's exactly the point—his potential and life was cut short, and his story is the focus of "Benji," the latest "30 for 30" film from ESPN (Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET).
At the time, Wilson was considered the best college basketball player in the country and Chicago's chosen son, and his death rocked the city.
Here's a preview from the film.
The story of Wilson resonates because of the potential he had as a basketball player, because he was a city's great hope. But it's also symbolic of something greater than just one man—the potential lost when anyone, athlete or not, is murdered.
We can see what was lost in Wilson's death, but how many others with potential not seen by the public eye die prematurely and aren't able to leave their mark on the world? Who knows what dies with each person slain in some unnecessary act of violence?
Wilson left his mark in death, too, and the film explores the backlash in the community after he was murdered. K.C. Johnson—who played for rival school Evanston in 1984—recalled Chicago after Wilson's death in a 2009 article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune 25 years after the murder:
Wilson's death touched a nerve in Chicago and beyond, producing outrage and demands for street violence to end. Roughly 8,000 attended his wake in Simeon's gym two days after he died. The following day, 10,000 crammed into Jesse Jackson's Operation PUSH headquarters for his funeral.
Jackson, Chicago mayor Harold Washington and the world screamed for lessons to be learned from this waste.
If it could happen to Wilson, it could happen to anyone. If so much potential was lost in his murder, even more could be lost if more kids had their lives cut short.
There's a saying in sports that there aren't any good losses, and the same holds true when talking about human lives. Wilson's death at least served as a wake-up call to a community, and hopefully the sorrow felt over his loss helped save other lives down the road.
His murder was pointless. His memory lived on, and those impacted by it helped to make a real difference.
It's a powerful, sad, touching and important story, and you shouldn't miss it. I'll leave you with this clip of R. Kelly, a childhood friend of Wilson.
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