Ben Wilson (basketball)
A photo of Ben Wilson taken in 1984. Wilson had been ranked as the top high schooler in the nation in the preseason basketball rankings and he was often photographed afterwards holding up one finger to indicate this.
|Guard / Forward|
March 18, 1967|
|Died||November 21, 1984
|Listed height||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Listed weight||180 lb (82 kg)|
|High school||Simeon (Chicago, Illinois)|
|Career highlights and awards|
Benjamin Wilson, Jr., often known as either "Smooth Operator" or "young fresh", (March 18, 1967 – November 21, 1984) was an American high school basketball player who was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Wilson attended Neal F. Simeon Vocational High School, where he became the first Chicago basketball player to be named the top high school basketball player in the country.
Wilson was murdered the day before his senior basketball season was to start after a conflict with a student from another school.
Ben Wilson was the first child born to Ben Wilson Sr. & Mary Wilson and was raised on Chicago's South Side. Mary Wilson, a registered nurse, had given birth to one son with another man, Wilson's older brother Curtis Glenn, and would have a third with Ben Wilson, Sr., his younger brother Jeffrey, before the couple divorced in 1974.
After the divorce, 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.
High school career
In the fall of 1981, he began his freshman year at Harlem Huskies in 's Auburn Gresham neighborhood. He lost to the #1 player in the country Jalen Smith 21-0. 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. 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.
Athletes For Better Education (AFBE)
In July 1984, Wilson attended the invitation-only Athletes For Better Education camp in Princeton, New Jersey. 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. As his senior season approached, it was believed that Wilson was considering scholarship offers from the University of Illinois, DePaul University and Indiana University.
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. Wilson had been on edge for much of the early part of the school year as he had impregnated Rush, who gave birth to a son she named Brandon. His biggest frustration was that Rush was not letting Wilson see the baby, and the entire emotional toll wore on Wilson to the point where he got into a fight with a student that resulted in Wilson being suspended when he inadvertently struck a teacher during the fight. Nothing much had changed by the time November 20 rolled around, and Wilson once again got into a confrontation with Rush after they met up.
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 carrying a .22 caliber handgun that he had tucked into his pants that morning when he left his home. There, the two boys met up with Erica Murphy, a classmate of Wilson and mutual friend to him and Moore, and headed to a local luncheonette. Wilson and Rush were arguing behind them, and as Wilson tried to get to Rush he and More made contact with each other.
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 the gun he was carrying. Wilson began to taunt Moore about the gun while Rush tried to get him to stop. Moore said that after this, Wilson lunged at him and out of fear he pulled the gun out and fired two shots at Wilson near point blank range as Dixon, Rush, and Murphy watched. Moore later said that it was inevitable that he would have to use the weapon once he showed it to Wilson, having remembered a lesson taught to him about firearms from an older relative.
Moore's first shot struck Wilson in his groin. The pain caused him to double over, which resulted in the second shot hitting him in the abdomen. A call was made to 911 for an ambulance shortly after the shooting at 12:37 pm CST, but there were significant delays. By 1:20 pm coach Bob Hambric, by now more than aware of what went down, decided to take matters into his own hands and headed toward his car so that he could take his star player to the hospital. Just then, the ambulance arrived at the scene.
Per Chicago emergency protocol of the time, a patient was to be transported to the nearest hospital. The hospital closest to Simeon and the shooting was St. Bernard Hospital, which not only did not have a trauma center but also did not have a surgeon on staff who could treat Wilson. A surgeon was called for but was not immediately available and it took until 3:14 pm, two hours and forty minutes later, for Wilson to be operated on.
Although doctors were optimistic that they could save him, Wilson's brother and mother were not. As Curtis Glenn saw his brother wheeled into surgery, he noticed that the soles of his feet were unnaturally pallid and were continuing to get paler. Mary Wilson, who was an emergency nurse by trade, also saw this. The second shot had damaged Wilson's liver and aorta, with the latter resulting in blood being unable to reach his lower extremities. The massive blood loss only made things worse and Mary came to the conclusion that nothing could be done to bring her son back, as even if he made it through surgery enough damage had been done with the blood loss that Ben would not have emerged from a persistent vegetative state. Early the next morning, Mary Wilson elected to have her son removed from life support and Ben Wilson died shortly thereafter. Wilson's family later sued the hospital, as they felt medical care had been inappropriately delayed. The lawsuit was settled in 1992, for an undisclosed amount.
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 recounted that once he revealed he had the pistol, he had 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.
Wilson died the morning before Simeon was to begin its season and defense of the state championship, and the team was to square off with Evanston in a rematch of the final. His teammates chose to play the game that night and emerged victorious.
Wilson was nicknamed "Magic Johnson with a jump shot" by his Simeon coach, Bob Hambric. 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. 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. Juwan Howard wore 25 at the University of Michigan as a tribute to Wilson. 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. Simeon basketball player Jabari Parker had the number 25 stitched into the team sneakers during his time at Simeon. 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. ESPN premiered a documentary on Wilson titled Benji on October 23, 2012.
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- 20 Year Tragedy (Chicago Sports Review, December 2004)
- The Well-Guarded Guard (Sports Illustrated, November 20. 2006)
- Ben Wilson's death resonates 25 years later (Chicago Tribune, November 2009)
- Court opinion in People v. Moore (at Legal.com, May 1, 1992)
- 1997 Benji Wilson Nike Ad (Nike, 1997)