30 for 30: Benji


I didn’t give up on this already, I’ve had the post rolling around in my head since this aired and just haven’t been able to get it out. Part of it has been busy doing everything else (and getting to about half of it), part of it was trying to figure out how I say what I want to say about this one. And I still haven’t found a good way to do it. There’s an elephant in the room, and if I’m just emotionless enough, I can step around it. (In no way will I be explaining this.)

I did not remember Ben Wilson; I was kid outside of Chicago when he died, but I wouldn’t have been known about high school basketball (or basketball entirely) at that point, and I only had the vaguest recollection of his name. Somehow, I do remember Mary Wilson as a person who’d be mentioned on local news, but did not realize it was Ben’s mom until late in the movie. The idea that Benji was a revered player in Chicago even today is probably true, but there are a lot of different Chicagos.

The overall reverence towards Benji drew me out of the movie at times, because there were so many obvious holes in it. Jalen Rose – doing the usual 15 second ESPN talking head clip shown during a commercial break but not actually part of the movie – saying the two players NBA fans were robbed of seeing were Len Bias and Ben Watson was absurd sentimentalism It’s a tragedy Watson died, but I have no doubt there are tragedies in Los Angeles and New York and Austin and Des Monies that robbed promising athletes of great futures. I dearly wish random acts of violence were a rare thing. They’re not. (Hopefully, gunshot victims being dropped off at hospitals unable to handle them is now a impossible rare thing.)

And on the other side, Watson did not come across as in the movie as certain a future star as those in the documentary were guaranteeing. He was called the #1 Junior in the country after a camp, but at what appears to be the early days of ranking prep players. Even today, those rankings aren’t reliable accurate as to future success and a lot can change; the movie noted Nick Anderson transferring to the school and others complaining about Simeon being too loaded by two top guys together. Anderson went on to have an okay NBA career, something anyone should be happy with, but not exactly the equal of Magic Johnson with a jumpshot. The limited footage of Watson playing showed a very good high school player, but not someone who was leaps and bounds better than his competition (like Ronald Dupree in his 30 for 30.) There were warning signs in Watson’s life of trouble – no one in his family knew he was serious with a girl, and it turns out he’s a father? – and there’s a pool room of people laughing about how they were already planning on living off him the rest as soon as he made any money. This could’ve gone wrong in so many other ways.

The most affecting scene in the movie was the high school memorial to Benji, where his classmates fell into hysterical grieving during a song. That got to me about how much Benji meant to them and how much it hurt he was gone, more than any scouting ranking or #1 finger pose. Their friend and hero was gone and they were devastated. I could’ve used more about Ben Watson the person and less Ben Watson the highly recruited basketball prospect.

Tracking down the guy who killed Watson and finding out what exactly happen – that it was simply a stupid act of violence by a kid who thought he had to prove something to the world – was daring but it gave the movie an extra dimension. Not being able to talk to Watson’s girlfriend felt like a hole the other way.

I did like this one. It’s just – for a movie about a death, I feel like I know more about how everyone else felt about him then I do about the deceased himself. A large part of Ben Watson’s story is his impact on everyone else, but the man himself seemed like a basketball legend and not a person.

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