Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ESPN Films 30 for 30: Benji

I finished watching Benji. This is the fourth installment of ESPN's 30 for 30 Vol II. An episode guide for Vol II is here.

Benji is the story of Ben Wilson. As a junior, Wilson led Simeon Vocational High School to the 1984 Class AA Illinois state championship. Simeon is located in Chicago.

That summer, Wilson went to a camp for the best high school basketball players in the nation. At the end of that camp, he was rated as the #1 high school player in the United States. Wilson was known as "Magic Johnson with a jump shot".

1984 was an interesting year for Chicago. The city had the first black mayor in Harold Washington. Michael Jordan was selected for the Bulls in the draft. Jesse Jackson was pursuing Operation PUSH. It was also a very violent time. Street gangs were wide spread in the city. There were almost 700 violent deaths in Chicago in 1984.

On November 20, 1984, the day before the first game of his senior season, Ben Wilson was walking a block from Simeon High school with his girlfriend. They bumped into two kids from another high school. The film presents some conflicting versions of the events, but Wilson was shot twice with a small caliber revolver. Partly due to some ineptitude within the system, he was transported to a hospital without a trauma center. Wilson died the next day.

This is another story that I knew nothing about. Apparently, Ben Wilson is a folk hero in Chicago to this day. A number of players at the high school, college and NBA level have worn number 25.

I expected not to like the documentary and was pleasantly surprised by the power of the film. It is definitely worth seeking out. All four of the 30 for 30 Vol II films aired so far have run 90 minutes. I think that this film could have been tightened up just a little. Additionally, I am not a big fan of the cartoon sequences that they used to illustrate several of the key plot points.

Benji is available on iTunes.

A trailer for the film is here.

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