Tuesday’s ESPN “30 for 30” on murdered Simeon basketball star Ben Wilson

Chicago Sun-Times-Coodie Simmons was a 13-year-old seventh-grader living in Beverly in November 1984 when he learned about the shooting of Simeon basketball star Ben Wilson.

‘‘Back then, we saw a lot of people get shot and be OK,’’ he said.

‘‘The next morning, I was home when I found out he died, and I was crying like he was my brother.’’

The hip-hop video director and filmmaker is part of the celebrated collective Coodie and Chike with New Orleans native Chike Ozah. Their first feature film, ‘‘Benji,’’ which was Wilson’s nickname, is a sorrowful and powerful documentary about Wilson’s brief though incandescent life.

Made under the auspices of ESPN’s ‘‘30 for 30’’ series, the movie plays Wednesday and Thursday at the AMC River East (322 E. Illinois St.) as part of the Chicago International Film festival, with the filmmakers present. The broadcast premiere is on ESPN at 7 p.m. Oct. 23.

Simmons graduated from Julian and studied mass communications at Northern Illinois. He met Ozah on their groundbreaking video for Kanye West’s ‘‘Through the Wire.’’ Just as they deployed a striking use of Polaroids in that video, the filmmakers interpolate archival footage, first-person interviews and expressive black-and-white animation in relating Wilson’s alternately remarkable and tragic story.

They frame Wilson’s rise against the backdrop of Harold Washington’s political career and the arrival of Michael Jordan, interspersed with gang violence and the introduction of crack cocaine.

The filmmakers point out that Wilson’s murder was the 669th that year in Chicago.

‘‘That’s the only one we talk about,’’ Simmons said.

‘‘We wanted to tell the story of Chicago and how I felt, as a young man growing up there, with the danger of gangs, the thrill of house parties, where there was a lot of fun but also that bit of danger.’’

The most chilling parts of the film deal with the parallel story of Billy Moore, the 16-year-old convicted of Wilson’s murder.

Wilson, who helped Simeon create a high school basketball dynasty with a state-best six state titles, is the forebearer to Nick Anderson, Derrick Rose and now Jabari Parker. Wilson, the movie asserts, is ‘‘a mythical figure fixed in Chicago’s collective memory.’’


One thought on “Tuesday’s ESPN “30 for 30” on murdered Simeon basketball star Ben Wilson”

  1. Sorry, I just think Omar Dixon and Billy Moore are not guilty! I think it was self defense and if they had good attorneys they could have got off or had much less sentences. I will tell you why I think it was self defense. After watching the documentary I am even more convinced of their innocence. 1. They were at Simeon school because somebody stole or took $10 from Moore’s cousin. 2. So now they going to steal from somebody else? That doesn’t make sense to me. They just think any blacks hanging around are stealing and thieves. 3. Moore was thinking more about getting with Erica Murphy and smoking weed. I think Moore was thinking more about trying to have sex with Erica Murphy like any other 16 year old boy would. While waiting outside while Erica was in the store a upset and angry Ben Wilson and girlfriend come up from behind Moore arguing. Ben Wilson was angry about something with Jetun. Now, come on people you know what it is like to have a heated argument with somebody you dating. I am sure 6’8″ 239 lbs Ben Wilson bumped into 5’9 165 lb Billy Moore and didn’t say excuse me because he was in a heated argument with his girlfriend. Now, do you really think Moore and Dixon did not know who this big superstar basketball player was? Erica Murphy stated Ben and Jetun were arguing and loud. 4. Now do you really think a 5’9″ Moore or 5’11” Dixon is going to go up to a 6’8″ 239 lb Ben Wilson and dig into his pockets while they know he is angry, because they can hear the argument he was having with his girlfriend. NOW COME ON!! 5. I believe Moore’s statements to be more credible in the documentary when he said Ben said F*** you, I am not saying excuse me to you, who the f*** are you? Sounds like a big Super Star ego talking to me. Jetun lied about the robbery so two young black males would definitely go to jail for killing the father of her newly born son. I am sure she was angry that her meal ticket just died and she was going to make Dixon and Moore pay so she lied on them. Really, it was probably her fault arguing over something stupid and trivial with Ben in the first place! That is probably why she did not want to comment on the documentary. Still sad for blacks who can’t understand the system. 6. Dirty cops force them to sign a confession statement that the cops wrote. 7. This is a self defense case and not a murder case, period. 8. Ben was going to hurt and punk Moore, because he was angry at Jetun at the time. That is typical anger displacement. 9. Scared Moore just decided to use a gun which most small people do to protect themselves. Unfortunately for Ben, Moore had a gun with him that day. Think what it would be like if a angry 6’8″ 239 lb man is approaching you and pushing you around. I am not saying it was right what Moore did, but I understand. The judicial system is set up to screw black people if they don’t know their rights and are not able to afford good attorneys, period!

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