By now, the entire world recognizes the importance and all-around sheer awesomeness that is ESPN’s critically acclaimed 30 For 30 series. Yet, aside from possibly “The U,” Tuesday night’s “Benji” – directed by Coodie and Chike – has been the lone documentary I’ve marked my calendar and cleared my schedule for. It’s truly that important. For me at least.
The Chicago Tribune’s Rich Mayor summed up the heartbreaking tragedy which is Benjamin Wilson perfectly in August when reflecting, “Not much in life is as tragic as talent unfulfilled and young death.” Wilson was the #1 ranked prep basketball player in the state of Illinois and a player coaches, scouts, teammates, opposing players and anyone who laid eyes on him had already billed as the next “it” product hailing from Chicago. It was only ironic that another all-world talent was beginning to etch his name in the City of Wind at the same time. Unlike Jordan, however, Benji never grasped the opportunity to tap into his own greatness. He was murdered November 20,1984; just a day before his senior season was to tip off and officially the 669th murder victim in Chicago that year.* Let that marinate for a moment.
The corresponding clip features a brief sermon given by Jesse Jackson and also R. Kelly reminisce about singing “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye Yesterday” at the burial. Whether you’ve known of Wilson’s story for years or just heard about him for the first time with these words, tune in. Seeing someone clipped down before their time – or what we perceive to be “their time” – is painful pill to swallow. But it’s a pill which ties us all together in a weird, humanizing bond because we’ve all lost someone whose value in our life could never be quantified into laughs, hugs or jump shots. Wilson was that person and that glimmer of hope to a city ravaged by violence in a civil war with the rising epidemic that was crack cocaine. He was their rose who would grow from the concrete littered by shell casings. For whatever reason though, said fairy tale wasn’t meant to be.
Be prepared to watch Benji and leave puffy-eyed. Lord knows I will be.
* – The more things change. The more they stay the same.