*In case you missed the Oct. 23 premiere, ESPN is re-airing its latest “30 for 30” documentary “Benji,” tonight at 9 p.m. [Scroll down to watch the promo.]
The 90-minute film, one of the best in the “30 for 30” series, documents the 1984 murder of 17-year old prep basketball phenom Ben Wilson – shot and killed the day before his senior season at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy high school.
“He was the No. 1 basketball player and everybody looked up to him in my neighborhood,”says Coodie Simmons, who co-directed the film along with his Creative Control TV partner Chike Ozah. “I used to try to go see him play. I used to sneak to the school… because we knew that he was going to be something great.
“When Ben died, it just crushed the city. It crushed everybody because it was so promising. He was so promising.”
The film features interviews with his family members, friends, former teammates (including R. Kelly), reporters who covered the story and famous Chicagoans like rapper Common and NBA vet Tim Hardaway, who witnessed the Ben Wilson pandemonium in 83 and 84, and the subsequent shock surrounding his death on Nov. 21, 1984.
Perhaps the film’s most compelling interview is of Billy Moore, the man convicted of killing Benji. Now in his 40s, he tells his side of the story for the first time ever, claiming he shot Wilson twice – only after the ball player lunged toward him during an altercation just blocks away from the Simeon campus. It differs from the robbery-gone-wrong version that ultimately led to Moore’s conviction, leaving viewers to decide which story to believe. In both accounts, Moore says he had no idea that his victim was the Ben “Benji” Wilson.
Directors Coodie and Chike, who come from a music video background that includes Kanye West’s “Through the Wire,” say they hope Benji’s story underscores the senseless and unnecessary nature of all deaths resulting from gun violence.
“I’m from Chicago, I’m from the hood of Chicago, and there’s a lot of kids in Chicago that’s getting murdered every day,” Coodie told EURweb. “You know, it was even worse than back then when Benji died. But the goal for [the film] is just so kids can understand that when you shoot somebody, you never know who you shooting.”
Below, Coodie talks about Simeon alum and current Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose, who wore Wilson’s No. 25 in the late star’s honor when he played for the prep school from 2003-2007. Coodie says local gang members saw a rising star in Rose, and collectively decided to make sure that he survived high school to fulfill his potential. [ESPN Films executive producers Connor Schell (1st) and John Dahl (2nd) chime in at the end.]
Below, the film’s first two minutes, followed by ESPN’s official promo.