Before his time in Chicago, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “The Big Short,” “Succession”) became aware of Ben Wilson via the Simeon hoops legend’s highly publicized murder in 1984.
But when he lived in the city during his time with the famed ImprovOlympic and Second City comedy theaters, McKay, an avid basketball fan, began to understand the nuance behind Wilson’s legacy.
“I would always talk basketball with people and ask questions about [Wilson] and what kind of player he was, the tragedy of what happened, and so I definitely was much more familiarized with the story and got a lot more details from my time in Chicago,” said McKay. “I used to go to a lot of high school basketball games when I was there because we lived in Chicago where some of the best basketball in the world takes place in that [Chicago] Public League.
“I remember going to see Kevin Garnett play when he was in [Farragut] high school and was on the same team with Ronnie Fields. Michael Wright was the power forward for them. … All of these incredible players, and you’re in a gym with 100 people or 200 people getting to watch these superstars, so that was a big part of my time in Chicago.”
McKay seems to have had his Chicago Public League experience in mind when curating “Death at the Wing,” a narrative podcast that premiered last month on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher about the tragic deaths of hoops legends. Wilson is the subject of episode four, which premieres Wednesday.
Wilson was named by talent scout Bob Gibbons as the top high school player in the nation — the first Chicagoan to receive the honor.
“We were pretty upfront about the way we were looking at the story, that we wanted to look at the actual personal story of Benji,” said McKay, who serves as the podcast’s host and producer. “We wanted to talk about the personal story with the young men who were involved in the shooting. We wanted to talk about the larger political changes that were going on with funding in the city, the change in the NRA, from what it was like in the early ’70s to what it is now. We were pretty upfront with everyone that we were looking at all angles of this.”
And McKay’s basketball content doesn’t stop with the “Death at the Wing” podcast.
He also is the executive producer of an upcoming HBO limited series detailing the 1980s “Showtime” era of the Lakers.
“Of all the times to be having two projects going that are about the massive cultural influence and change that the NBA brought — and at the same time the political forces around it,” said McKay. “It’s really strange that both of them happen to land on the same square. ‘Showtime’ Lakers is directly about the ‘Showtime’ Lakers, but proved in that telling of that story, it gets into a lot of other issues about race, about class, about American culture, about these individuals, drug abuse; all that kind of stuff happens through the lens of the ‘Showtime’ Lakers. It’s a really interesting story.”