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.
|No. 25 – Simeon Wolverines|
|Position||Guard / Forward|
|League||Chicago Public League|
March 18, 1967|
|Died||November 21, 1984
|Listed height||6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)|
|Listed weight||180 lb (82 kg)|
|High school||Simeon (Chicago, Illinois)|
|Career highlights and awards|
Benjamin "Benji" Wilson Jr., , (March 18, 1967 – November 21, 1984) was an American high school basketball player from Chicago who was murdered one day before the start of his senior basketball season after an altercation with two students from a nearby school. Wilson was the first Chicago basketball player to be named the top high school basketball player in the country.
Ben Wilson was the second 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 Simeon Vocational High School in the Chatham neighborhood. During 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. He would play basketball with R. Kelly and Nick Anderson.
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 decided to stay behind and catch up with them later so he could talk to his girlfriend Jetun Rush. Wilson and Rush, who had been going out for some time before, had been sexually active and as a result, Wilson fathered a baby boy that Rush gave birth to before the school year began and named Brandon. 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 struck a teacher who was trying to break the altercation up. 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.
Meanwhile, Calumet High School student Billy Moore, along with his classmate Omar Dixon, looked to get back at a Simeon student who had stolen ten dollars from one of Moore's cousins. Moore, toting a .22 caliber pistol he had left home with that morning, and Dixon both cut class at Calumet to confront the Simeon student. Howvever, Moore found out that the situation had been resolved and he decided to stick around the Simeon campus to try and meet up with a classmate of Wilson's, Erica Murphy, who was a mutual friend to the two boys. When Murphy caught up with Moore and Dixon, they decided to go to one of their favorite local lunch stops near the school.
Moore was interviewed for the 2012 ESPN Films documentary Benji and recounted what happened next. Wilson and Rush had been behind him and his friends and Rush had stepped away from Wilson, not wanting to talk to him. In Wilson's attempt to chase down Rush, he knocked into Moore as he walked up the street. Moore called out to Wilson to watch where he was going, only to have the already upset Wilson come back toward him and challenge him to do something. With the situation beginning to escalate, Moore decided to show Wilson the gun which was tucked into his pants. Wilson, meanwhile, began taunting him and Rush, fearing for his safety, began begging him to stop.
Moore said, in that moment, he thought back to a situation where an older relative of his had warned him about firearms as a child. Moore said that his relative warned him to never pull a gun on anyone because once he did, he was going to have to use it. After he showed the .22 to Wilson, Wilson lunged at him. Out of fear for what the much larger Wilson would do, Moore fired twice in Wilson's direction. The first shot hit Wilson in his groin, causing him to double over in pain immediately. The second shot struck the bent-over Wilson in the abdomen, which caused significant bleeding.
A call was made to 911 for an ambulance shortly after the shooting at 12:37 pm CST. However, there were delays in getting emergency services to the scene of the shooting and by 1:20 pm, Simeon basketball coach Bob Hambric decided not to wait any longer and headed for his own vehicle with the intention of driving Wilson to the hospital himself. The ambulance finally arrived just as Hambric got into his car, but matters only became more complicated from there. Chicago emergency protocol dictated that all ambulance calls were to deliver the patient to the nearest hospital available. In Wilson's case, that was St. Bernard Hospital in the Englewood section on West 64th Street. St. Bernard, however, was (and still is) a small community hospital that did not have either a trauma center or an emergency surgeon on staff. Thus, when Wilson arrived at the hospital, a call had to be put out for any available trauma surgeon to report to St. Bernard. By the time one was found and Wilson was brought into surgery, it was 3:14 pm CST — nearly two hours since the ambulance picked up Wilson and almost three since he had sustained his wounds.
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 delay in treating her son's injuries only made things worse and Mary came to the conclusion that nothing could be done to bring Ben back, as even if he made it through surgery he had lost far too much blood and 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 after the shooting. He did not return to his home, instead heading to Erica Murphy's residence where he recounted that he had learned the extent of what he did and who his victim had been. That evening, the Chicago Police found Moore at Murphy's house and 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 was coerced into signing the confession, only doing so after a long night of questioning by police, 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 finals. His teammates chose to play the game that night and emerged victorious.
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)