Ben Wilson (basketball)

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Ben Wilson
Benji Wilson Basketball.jpg
No. 25
Guard / Forward
Personal information
Born (1967-03-18)March 18, 1967
Chicago, Illinois
Died November 21, 1984(1984-11-21) (aged 17)
Chicago, Illinois
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 9 in (206 cm)
Listed weight 180 lb (82 kg)
Career information
High school Simeon (Chicago, Illinois)
Career highlights and awards

Benjamin "Benji"[1] Wilson Jr. (March 18, 1967 – November 21, 1984) was an American Chicago area high school basketball player who was shot to death just prior to basketball season, during his senior year of high school.[2] He was the first Chicago basketball player to be named the top high school basketball player in the country.[3]

Early life[edit]

Ben Wilson was the first child born to Mary Wilson and Benjamin Wilson, Sr., and was raised in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.[4] Mary Wilson, a registered nurse, had given birth to one son with another man, and would have a third with Ben Wilson, Sr. before the couple divorced in 1974. After the divorce, Wilson's older brother Curtis Glenn took a larger role in raising his brother and young Benji grew to admire and desired to emulate his brother Curtis to certain degrees. Wilson began playing basketball at an early age, starting in elementary school. He started at St. Dorothy School and later transferred to Ruggles Elementary School, graduating in 1981. Wilson practiced at Cole Park in Chicago's Chatham neighborhood.[5]

High school career[edit]

In the fall of 1981, he began his freshman year at Simeon Vocational High School in Chicago's Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the south side. He played on the school's junior varsity team for the 1981–82 season. For the 1982–83 season, Wilson was the only sophomore on the varsity basketball team. For the 1983–84 season, Simeon defeated Aurora West High School by nine points to advance to the finals against Evanston Township High School.[6] Simeon won its first Illinois State Championship in 1984, defeating top-ranked Evanston. ESPN HS regarded Wilson as the best junior in the country for the 1983–84 season.[7][8]

Athletes For Better Education (AFBE)[edit]

In July 1984, Wilson attended the invitation-only Athletes For Better Education camp in Princeton, New Jersey.[9] The camp allowed scouts and coaches to watch top high school students in a single location. After the week-long event, Wilson was ranked the number-one high school player in America.[9] As his senior season approached, it was believed that Wilson was considering scholarship offers from the University of Illinois, DePaul University and Indiana University.[10]


On November 20, 1984, shortly after 12 pm, Wilson was headed to lunch with some of his teammates but elected to stay behind and catch up with them later so he could talk to his girlfriend Jetun Rush about seeing his son. About the same time, two students from nearby Calumet High School, Omar Dixon and Billy Moore, had cut class and were at the Simeon campus over a dispute over a student stealing $10 from one of Moore's cousins. The dispute had been resolved, but Moore did not know that until he got to Simeon. There, the two boys met up with Erica Murphy, a friend and classmate of Wilson, and headed to a local luncheonette. Wilson and Rush were arguing behind them, and as Wilson tried to get to Rush he and Moore made contact with each other.

What happened next has been disputed. Moore was interviewed for the 2012 ESPN Films documentary Benji and he said that he called after Wilson to watch where he was going. Wilson came back toward Moore, already upset over his argument with Rush, and got back in his face. At some point in the next several seconds, Moore said that he showed Wilson a .22 caliber pistol that he had left home with that morning. He then recounted that Wilson lunged at him and out of fear, Moore shot Wilson twice while Dixon, Murphy, and Rush looked on.

Wilson was hit in his midsection and leg, suffering liver damage, and an ambulance was called for.[11] After a substantial delay, Wilson was taken to the nearest hospital, which was St. Bernard Hospital, as per Chicago emergency protocol. There was no trauma center at St. Bernard, however, and it took a significant amount of time before trauma surgeons could begin operating on Wilson. By that time, he had lost a significant amount of blood and what he still had was not reaching his vital organs. Although doctors remained optimistic at first, Mary Wilson— herself an emergency room nurse— eventually decided that there was no chance that her son would recover. Early the next morning, she elected to have her son removed from life support and Ben Wilson died shortly thereafter.[6][12] Wilson's family later sued the hospital, as they felt medical care had been inappropriately delayed.[13] The lawsuit was settled in 1992, for an undisclosed amount.[14]

Billy Moore fled the scene to Erica Murphy's home, where he remained until later that evening when the Chicago Police arrested him for what initially were robbery and attempted murder charges. Omar Dixon was arrested that night as well, and both young men were interrogated and eventually signed statements that supported the police's case theory: that Dixon and Moore had attempted to rob Wilson and that Moore shot Wilson on Dixon's orders. Moore said in Benji that he only shot Wilson because he was scared and that he felt once the gun was brought into the situation, he had no choice but to use it. He claimed that he was coerced into signing the confession and that Dixon had no involvement. Both Moore and Dixon were convicted in 1985, with Moore sentenced to forty years in prison and Dixon thirty. Both men were released on parole, Moore in 2005 and Dixon five years earlier; Dixon is currently serving a new sentence on an armed robbery conviction.

Personal life[edit]

Wilson was nicknamed "Magic Johnson with a jump shot" by his Simeon coach, Bob Hambric.[10] He had one son, Brandon Wilson (born September 12, 1984), with his high school girlfriend Jetun Rush. Brandon, who was 10 weeks old when his father died, became a top high school basketball player and went on to play at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore; wearing Wilson's number 25.


Years after his brother died, Curtis Glenn became a father. Before the baby was born, Glenn recounted for the 2012 ESPN documentary about his brother that he declared to the baby's mother that if she was to have a boy, he was going to name it Benjamin in honor of Wilson. The baby was indeed a boy and named Benjamin. Wilson's story was the focus of a 1997 Nike advertisement that aired during the NBA playoffs.[15] The text from the short ad is as follows:

"About [one out of] every five black men
die before they reach the age of 25.
That was Benji's number.
Benji was good, the first in Chicago history
to ever be named top high school player in the nation,
right before he was gunned down.
But you know what?
Benji's not dead.
Benji's spirit lives on in every jump shot.
Remember, shoot over brothers
Not at them."

Wilson's friend and Simeon teammate, former NBA and University of Illinois basketball player Nick Anderson, wore jersey number 25 during his career in Wilson's honor.[16] Juwan Howard wore 25 at the University of Michigan as a tribute to Wilson.[16] Current Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who graduated from Simeon in 2007, wore number 25, and the team won the state championship in 2006 and 2007.[16] Simeon basketball player Jabari Parker had the number 25 stitched into the team sneakers during his time at Simeon.[17] Following Nick Anderson's tribute to Wilson in wearing number 25 at Illinois, many others who graduated from Simeon and moved on to play for the Illini have carried on the tradition of wearing the jersey number 25. In the years since his murder in 1984, Deon Thomas, Bryant Notree, Calvin Brock, and Kendrick Nunn have all worn 25 during their basketball career at Illinois to honor Wilson.[18] ESPN premiered a documentary on Wilson titled Benji on October 23, 2012.[19]


  1. ^ Hale, Mike (October 22, 2012). "A Rising Star, Extinguished, in 1980s Chicago". The New York Times (Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.). Retrieved December 26, 201. 
  2. ^ Jackson, Scoop (October 23, 2012). "Benji Wilson's ongoing journey". Retrieved December 26, 2012. 
  3. ^ Jackson, Scoop (November 21, 2009). "Original Old School: Nuthin’ But Love". Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ Crawford, Bryan (October 24, 2012). "Life of "Benji" Comes Full Circle in Chicago". NBC Chicago. Retrieved December 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Ben Wilson: A Dream Unfulfilled". October 13, 2012. Retrieved December 26, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b "Ben Wilson: A Life Cut Short but the Memories Remain". Automattic. August 19, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  7. ^ Fields, Ronnie (May 18, 2011). "Previous underclass POYs". ESPN HS. Archived from the original on May 22, 2011. Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  8. ^ Temkin, Barry (April 12, 2002). "An unknown legacy". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Company). Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Fuchs, Cynthia (October 24, 2012). "'Benji' Revisits the Story of Chicago Basketball Star Ben Wilson". PopMatters. Retrieved December 26, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Wischnowsky, Dave (October 25, 2012). "What if Ben Wilson had Lived - And Become a Flyin' Illini?". Chicago Local. CBS. Retrieved October 28, 2012. 
  11. ^ Myers, Linnet (October 9, 1985). "Basketball Star's Slaying Described By Girlfriend". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Company). Retrieved October 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ Berkow, Ira (February 14, 1993). "PRO BASKETBALL; A Dead Friend, a Living Memory". The New York Times (Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.). Retrieved October 25, 2012. 
  13. ^ Mount, Charles (May 8, 1985). "Ben Wilson's Family Sues Hospital, Medics". Chicago Tribune (Tony W. Hunter). Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Goldman, Robert; Papson, Stephen (1998). Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh. Sage Publications. Retrieved March 14, 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c Benji, dir. Coodie and Chike, 2012.
  17. ^ O'Neill, Lucas (April 25, 2012). "With an assist from Parker, 'Benji' debuts". ESPN HS. Retrieved October 26, 2012. 
  18. ^ Schurilla, Lexi (March 12, 2014). "Nunn Carries On 'Benji' Legacy". Retrieved March 14, 2014. 
  19. ^ Mayor, Rich (August 16, 2012). "ESPN documentary to remember Simeon's Ben Wilson". Chicago Tribune (Tribune Company). Retrieved October 26, 2012. 

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