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.
March 18, 1967|
|Died||November 21, 1984
|Listed height||6 ft 8 in (2.03 m)|
|Listed weight||190 lb (86 kg)|
|High school||Simeon (Chicago, Illinois)|
|Position||Guard / Forward|
|Career highlights and awards|
Benjamin "Ben" Wilson Jr.', also referred to as "Benji",  (March 18, 1967 – November 21, 1984) was an American high school basketball player from Neal F. Simeon Vocational High School in Chicago, Illinois, who was regarded as the top high school player in the entire United States entering his senior season. He was the first player from Chicago to receive this honor.
Ben Wilson was one of three children born to Ben Wilson Sr. and Mary (Gunter) Wilson and was raised in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. Mary Wilson had two sons from a previous marriage.
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 Chatham and participated in summer league games in Chicago. As his game developed, friends and family surrounding Wilson began to notice that his talent could make him one of the best, if not the best, players in the sport. They made it a point to protect Wilson from trouble as he got older; as he was entering high school, the nationwide crack epidemic was in full swing and some of the people closest to Wilson, including his older brother Curtis Glenn, became addicted. Chicago's violent crime rate was very high during this time as well, especially in the South Side.
High school career
In the fall of 1981, he began his freshman year at Simeon. During the 1982–83 season, Wilson was the only sophomore on the varsity basketball team. For the 1983–84 season, Simeon advanced to the Illinois AA State Championship, which was held at Assembly Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. Behind Wilson, Simeon defeated Aurora West High School by nine points in the semifinals and followed it up with a victory over top-ranked Evanston Township High School to win their first ever state title. 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.
Events leading to death
On November 20, 1984, shortly after 12 pm CST, 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 began dating during their junior year, and the relationship progressed quickly from there. The two quickly became sexually active, which Wilson tried to keep a secret from his family. Eventually, the secret got out when Mary Wilson received a telephone call one night that Rush had given birth to a baby boy, who she named Brandon.
The stress of being a new father exacerbated all of the pressure on Wilson from being named the nation's top recruit. To make matters worse, Rush began avoiding Wilson for reasons that were never made clear and would not let him see his son. The entire emotional toll wore on Wilson to the point where he grabbed Rush during a rather heated argument in an attempt to force her to talk to him. In the course of the argument, one of Wilson's teachers tried to break the two up only to be shoved down by Wilson. Wilson earned a multiple day suspension as a result, but the relationship between the two was still contentious as the weeks went on and once again, Wilson found himself trying to reason with his girlfriend while she seemed to want nothing to do with him.
Meanwhile, a student of nearby Calumet High School was hanging out near the Simeon campus toting a .22 caliber revolver in the waist of his pants. When he left for school that morning, Billy Moore was intending on using the gun to get back at a Simeon student who had taken ten dollars from a cousin of his. With his friend Omar Dixon following, Moore cut class at Calumet and sought out the student, only to find out that the matter had been resolved peacefully and that the effort had been useless. Moore and Dixon then decided to wait and see if Erica Murphy, a classmate of Wilson's and friend to both him and Moore, was around and wanted to hang out. The three of them then headed for a luncheonette popular with the Simeon student body. Murphy went inside to purchase something while Moore and Dixon waited outside.
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 passed the store and continued up the street. Moore, who did not appreciate Wilson bumping into him, called after him saying he should have watched where he was going. Wilson turned back toward Moore, already frustrated over his situation with Rush, and started yelling at him. The two exchanged expletives, and Wilson started walking back toward the store challenging Moore to do something. As Rush began pleading with Wilson to calm down and unsuccessfully tried to pull him away from the situation, Moore unzipped his coat and showed the .22 to Wilson in an attempt to scare him. Instead, the maneuver had the exact opposite effect; Wilson, unimpressed by the gun, began taunting Moore and asked him if he was going to shoot.
Moore said, in that moment, he thought back to a situation where his grandfather had warned him about firearms as a child. Moore was told to never pull a gun on anyone because once he did, he was going to have to use it. However, because he felt like Wilson was "punking" him, Moore pulled the revolver out of his pants. Once he did that, 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. He and Dixon then fled the scene.
Word of the shooting reached the Simeon campus within minutes and people began running toward the scene to see what had happened to Wilson, who was struggling to breathe. Upon hearing about his star player's condition, Simeon basketball coach Bob Hambric placed a call to Chicago newsman Warner Saunders, then a reporter at WMAQ-TV, thus giving the media word of the story. 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, 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.
At the time of the incident, Chicago emergency protocol dictated that all ambulances 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 at 3:14 pm CST, he had been in the emergency room at St. Bernard for almost two hours and it had been almost three since he was shot.
Back at Simeon, Wilson's basketball teammates were called to the teachers' lounge and sequestered there for the remainder of the day. There they were kept up to date on the condition of their fallen classmate, but as word came in the prognosis seemed to get worse and worse. His teammate Teri Sampson, who was interviewed for Benji, said that over the course of the night the messages went from Wilson having a chance to play in the state playoffs once he recovered to potentially not playing that year at all, then to never playing again and finally to the point where he was fighting for his life.
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.
Shortly after the shooting, Erica Murphy left school for the day. When she returned to her house, she found Billy Moore sitting and watching television. As Murphy asked him if he knew who he had shot, Moore watched the news coverage of the shooting and found out the extent of what he had done. Moore never went back to his house and remained at Murphy's residence until the Chicago Police came searching for him later that evening. Both he and Dixon were arrested and brought in for questioning, where they were presented with the case theory: that the confrontation between Moore and Wilson was followed by Dixon attempting to pick Wilson's pockets, after which Moore shot Wilson at Dixon's behest. The two boys signed prepared statements to that effect and were booked on charges of robbery and attempted murder, with the latter charge upgraded to murder after Wilson died in the hospital. 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.
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 New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose, who graduated from Simeon in 2007, wore number 25, and the team won the state championship in 2006 and 2007. He also now wears number 25 with the New York Knicks, after being traded from Wilson's and his own hometown team Chicago Bulls. 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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