I stumbled upon the Story of Benjamin Wilson by accident early this year, the minute I read about this young man and how his life was tragically cut short on November 20, 1984, I could not help but wonder how come I never had the privilege of learning about his life much sooner; in many ways his story is very much like the one of Len Bias, two fantastic athletes with God-given abilities, whom never had the chance to let the world see what only few knew. If there is one word I could use to describe Benji Wilson based on everything I read and researched, the word would be phenom. I am aware that there is no such thing as perfection in human beings, but the manner in which everyone described Benji from the way he played basketball, to the way he dressed, talked, and danced; he is elevated to a level that makes him seem that way. At one point in Chicago, there was no bigger basketball phenom than Benji Wilson; even with the presence of a young Michael Jordan, the talk of Chicago was Benji Wilson. Everyone that played with or against him knew without question he was the best player in America; this was confirmed in Spring of 1984 when he was named the No. 1 High School player in the country, and the desire of practically every big name colleges; what makes this feat even more remarkable was the fact that he was only a 17 year old junior, and still reaching his peak.
What made Benji Wilson a phenom? For starters he was 6’9 and weighed around 239 lbs. He had the ability to score outside and inside, he could pass like Magic Johnson, block shots, dunk; in essence he was the total package. The late Coach Bob Hambric of Simeon Career Academy, who also coached former NBA star Nick Anderson and teammate of Benji Wilson, once said the following about Benji’s playing ability;
“He possessed the same skills as Magic, but he had a better outside shot. He did all of it. He had the ability to change the complexion of any game. If he decided he was going to rebound and block shots, that’s what he did. If he decided he was going to go down low and score, he was able to do that. He was able to do anything.”
To those whom read this assessment by Coach Hambric, one would suggest this to be an embellishment of his skills; but for those who played with and against Benji Wilson, this assessment was the gospel truth. There were two moments in listening to Benji’s story that really stuck with me; the first was listening to his older brother talking about Magic Johnson was one of his fans, at one point he recounted how Magic Johnson called his house to play a pick up game with Benji. The other moment was listening to future NBA stars such as Tim Hardaway and Kendall Gill proclaim that he was the best player they had ever seen and one far superior than all of them, that was when it occurred to me that Benji was something special.
His tragic death on November 20, 1984 was felt throughout the entire state of Illinois and the nation; not only because of the violent nature of his death, but because of the importance of Benji Wilson at that time, it had seemed like Illinois had died alongside him that day. Years after his death, his influence has been felt by everyone in all of Illinois; Nick Anderson wore his number 25 through his NBA career with the Orlando Magic, current NBA Derrick Rose led Simeon to back-to-back titles in high school also wore Benji’s number 25. Though his physical body many no longer be with us, his spirit and influence is eternal; there may never be another athlete in the state of Illinois like Benji.