A film about Benji Wilson, a Chicago basketball prodigy who was shot to death in 1984, may play a role in helping to heal the city in 2012.

Well Derrick Rose hasn’t always worn No. 1. Back in his high school days at Simeon (Chicago, Ill.), Rose paid tribute to local legend Ben “Benji” Wilson by wearing No. 25.

The nation’s No. 1 high school basketball prospect in 1984, Wilson had Chicago abuzz before Michael Jordan’s Golden Era. But when he was senselessly murdered after inadvertently bumping into two gang members on the eve of his senior season in 1984, everything changed.   The journey to get the story of Ben Wilson’s life told on (and through) film started long before directors Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah were given the green light to start telling one of the most compelling stories in the history of Chicago — and one of the most traumatic, misunderstood and unforgiving stories in sports.

For close to 15 years, the film version of the story of the life and death of Chicago’s basketball “messiah” seemed to imprison the city. Different screenplays existed, different directors were attached to those screenplays, family disputes emerged about who had the legal rights to tell the story, Ben’s mother passed away, Ben’s girlfriend at the time of his death didn’t want to be involved, people wanted money, to profit off the Prophet.

The impact that he made throughout the Chicago was fully evident in the 10,000-plus attendees of his 12-hour memorial service, which I attended, and it is still felt today as those who held him close to their hearts continue to keep his name alive.

And to hear Billy Moore – the man convicted of murdering Benji – tell his story of what really went down on Nov. 20, 1984, it’s 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. It’s the part of the urban legend that wasn’t true.

Not much has changed here 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.

The person Ben Wilson was compared to the most when he played was Magic Johnson. He was the first “next” Magic. His full nickname: “Magic With A Jump Shot.” Which makes it interesting if you look at the impact and influence Johnson has had on lives in his posthumous basketball career and then correlate how, now that this story has finally been told and this film finally made, Benji — more than any other player in recent memory — has the power to still be our next Magic.

 

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