Ben Wilson's talent was so immense that a legacy of an NBA legend awaited. Unfortunately, life dealt him a different fate, and now that legacy has far more real-world ramifications.
"Benji," as he was known to friends, was murdered just prior to starting his senior season at Simeon Career Academy on the South Side of Chicago in 1984. By all appearances, Wilson was in the wrong place in the wrong time, got in an altercation and was shot while he was unarmed.
The newest ESPN film Benji tells this tale expertly, and the message of the film drives home his legacy.
Wilson was the nation's top basketball recruit, and according to Scoop Jackson ofSlam, he was the first Chicagoan to ever carry that status.
In that regard, he was a trendsetter. Chicago has turned into a hot bed of basketball talent. Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis and Jabari Parker have all since earned the top recruit honors.
At 6'8", Wilson had the ability of a guard. He dominated the high school ranks and he had the game that would translate on any level. He led the famous Simeon Career Academy to their first state title as a junior.
He also had a megawatt smile and friendly personality to go with all his talent. In the interviews in the documentary, it becomes quickly apparent that Wilson was well-liked and he has been missed. The emotional pain of his loss is still apparent in almost all those who knew him and were a part of this film.
His loss was mourned by an estimated 18,000 at two separate public services commemorating his life, and his story is certainly not forgotten.
In 2009, Derrick Rose, who also attended Simeon, told The Chicago Tribune's KC Johnson:
They tried to keep his spirit alive, not just in the program but throughout the whole school. Benji meant so much to us, and his story really scared me, knowing it happened to a great player. Anything can happen.
I just wanted to stay out of the negative. I didn't go to parties or stupid places. I was a loner. I didn't go nowhere but to my friends' houses and home.
And that hits at Wilson's biggest legacy. He is a symbol of the tragedy of senseless violence. His tale inspired Derrick Rose stay out of trouble, and who knows how many countless others.
The impact of his death is not limited to Chicago either. Nike ran the embedded ad in 1997 featuring the following powerful passage:
This film once again brings Wilson's story into the national consciousness, and it is a message that needs to get across.
Wilson's life was cut far too short for needless reasons, and he missed out on the glory his talent promised. That tragic reality has created an everlasting legacy, and it has changed lives in ways athletics never could.
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