Kendrick Nunn continues legacy of Ben Wilson in Chicago homecoming

CHICAGO -- For Melvin Nunn, Thursday was a reminder of one of the toughest days of his life: Nov. 21, 1984.

On that day, Chicago prep hoops legend Ben Wilson was killed at age 17. Wilson was shot twice the previous day by Billy Moore and his cousin Omar Dixon, who were 16 at the time, during lunch hour near Simeon High School.

On Friday, 35 years later, Melvin's son Kendrick Nunn would make his hometown debut against the Chicago Bulls. Kendrick Nunn helped lead the Miami Heat to a 116-108 victory with 21 points.

"I was in class and somebody woke me up, because I was sleep," Melvin Nunn told ESPN during halftime, while reflecting on Wilson's death. "I was in shop class and it was a four-period class and somebody said, 'Hey man, Ben just got shot' and I said, 'What?'

"It was a sad day, a sad year and it's pretty much always sad, and this is 35 years ago. So for my son to come back to Chitown, him and [Atlanta Hawks forward] Jabari Parker, they're just keeping that Simeon tradition alive."

Like fellow Chicago Simeon alumni Derrick Rose of the Detroit Pistons, the undrafted Heat rookie Nunn continues to wear No. 25 in Wilson's honor. Melvin was a sophomore teammate of Wilson's as he entered his senior year ranked as the nation's No. 1 prep prospect before his life was cut short.

The 2012 ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled "Benji" introduced Wilson's story to a new generation of Chicago ballers, such as Nunn, who ultimately took it and ran with it.

"That's huge man. I'm still carrying the legacy myself so that's huge for me," Kendrick Nunn said of Wilson. "When I was in high school that's when I first really found out about it and learned the history about Simeon and Benji and then watching the documentary when it came out, the 30 for 30."

Against the Bulls on Friday, Nunn recorded his seventh 20-point game this season, which is tied with Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant for most among rookies and the most by a Heat rookie since Michael Beasley in 2008-09, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Nunn scored 13 points in the first quarter before deferring to Jimmy Butler in the fourth quarter with Miami losing a 22-point lead, but he still had a solid game overall, going 8-for-14 from the field.

"He always looks the same, I think that would be a great meme, isn't that what you call it?" Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Whether he has 30 points or zero points, his facial expression and body language would look the same."

Nunn learned about the 35-year anniversary of Wilson's death ahead of Friday's tipoff.

In 2016, Nunn was dismissed from the Illinois basketball team for pleading guilty to misdemeanor domestic battery. He played one season at Oakland university before signing with the Golden State Warriors in July 2018. Nunn spent the 2018-19 season in the G League with the Santa Cruz Warriors after Golden State waived him during its final cuts. He then signed a three-year, $3.1 million deal with the Heat this past April. Nunn earned his roster spot with an impressive summer, and solidified his place in Miami's rotation with an impressive training camp and preseason.

Former NBA player and fellow Chicago native Will Bynum was also in attendance for Friday's game, as well as hundreds of others in support. Bynum has served as a mentor for Nunn in trying to keep him on the right track.

"The situations that played out, these were things that we talked about specifically," said Bynum, who trained with Nunn in Los Angeles this summer. "If you're living right, doing things the right way and taking control of everything that you're in control of, good things will happen. It's great to see it, especially for kids from the same situation that I'm from, with the same upbringing because a lot of us don't get that opportunity."

Sitting courtside in a No. 25 retro Wilson high school jersey was David Moore, Chicago 17th Ward Alderman who is also a member of the Simeon class of 1984. The 53-year-old says he knew Wilson and Melvin Nunn in high school but was even more proud to see Kendrick Nunn succeed.

For a basketball city that continues to endure a dark cloud decades later behind one of its greatest players never reaching his full potential, seeing Nunn in action was able to bring a bright spot.

"It was normal to me," Nunn said. "When I play the game, I don't think about anyone in the stands or anything like that. I'm trying to win the game. I play to win."