Last night, I watched a re-airing of ESPN’s 30 for 30 special entitled Benji, the life and tragic death of Ben Wilson. Since I got married in Cook County, lived in Chicago for 2 years, worked for Michael Jordan as the manager of his Michael Jordan Golf Shop at O’Hare International Airport and had a co-worker whose son was offered a full ride to play college ball at Illinois, I was intrigued by the previews of Benji. Although I watched the premiere showing on Tuesday night, I was distracted by the Celtics/Heat game, flipping back and forth between each. Thus, as I examined the whole episode, I discovered the moral of this biography was personal responsibility.
Similar to Michael Jordan’s growth spurt in high school, Ben Wilson grew several inches between his freshman and sophomore year at Simeon High, located on the south side of Chicago, reaching 6 feet 5 inches by the start of the basketball season. After teammates convinced their coach to allow Benji to try out for the varsity squad, it wasn’t long before Ben Wilson became a fixture in the starting line-up. As a junior, Benji led his team to the Chicago City Championship and eventually to the Illinois AA State Title. Invited to the top summer basketball camp, full of the nation’s top senior prospects, Benji out shined every player, receiving the #1 rating as America’s number one college prospect. Unfortunately, one day before the first game of Benji’s senior season, he was shot twice while taking a walk during lunch, dying 24 hours later.
Underneath all the glamour, glitter and future stardom, there was a dark cloud hanging over Benji’s life. His father only attend 5 or 6 of Benji’s basketball games to his recollection, too distracted by crack cocaine, addicted to the highs he received. Meanwhile, Benji was once suspended from school a week for striking a teacher in the hall, got his high school sweetheart pregnant and became overly possessive of her, which led to his death. This cloud grew in size like Hurricane Sandy when William Moore and Omar Dixon decided to skip school one day. With his uncle’s gun in his coat pocket, William Moore disregarded his uncle’s warning after Benji accidently bumped him. Encouraged by Omar and fearful of Ben’s size, William choose to shoot Ben twice, fleeing the scene until the police knocked on his parents door later that evening.
Anyone can play Monday morning quarterback, yet if personal responsibility was taken by the party’s involved, Benji might be still playing in the National Basketball Association or finished a hall of fame career by now. First, William Moore joined a local gang after his father died of cancer. If William would have sought professional help or the advice of a local pastor, he might have turned to someone else and likely would not have skipped school on the day of the shooting. On the other hand, if Benji would have demonstrated anger management, respect and self-control, this bumping incident would not have escalated into his murder. Guns don’t kill people, people pull the trigger as their lives begin to fall apart. A lack of leadership at home often pushes young people to their peers or even worse, to gangs where family values turn into self destructive habits. These attitudes taught on the street shape a teenagers’ worldview, influences their behavior’s and leads to a life style which led to Ben Wilson’s murder. May this story prevent future violence, discouraging today’s students from pulling the trigger. Remember Benji!
by Jay Mankus