As a basketball player, “Jumpin” Johnny Wilson is remembered as someone who played bigger than he really was. Even though he was often far from the tallest player on the court, he played above the rim before it was fashionable to do so.
Wilson had an outstanding athletic career. He was Mr. Basketball, led Anderson High School to the 1946 boys state high school basketball championship, played baseball in the Negro leagues and coached successfully at the high school and collegiate levels.
Now, thanks to local artist Ken Ryden, he will actually get to be permanently larger than life.
A clay model, sculpted by Ryden, stands 9 feet tall and will be a bronze, imposing replica of his playing days with the Harlem Globetrotters. It will be displayed outside the Anderson Impact Center, 630 Nichol Ave.
While Wilson’s athletic achievements as a player and a coach are easily enough to merit such a significant tribute, it is perhaps the totality of his accomplishments, including those away from athletics, that make this such an appropriate time and place for such recognition.
Lifelong friend Carl Erskine has often campaigned for a school to be named for Wilson. Erskine’s point was that Wilson, who came from very modest surroundings, was successful in listening to the right people and following the right example and the end result was a college degree and a life fulfilling and successful by any number of yardsticks. Erskine has often said that Wilson should be the poster figure for Anderson Community Schools as an example of where following the right path can lead.
Students at the Anderson Impact Center are completing an education with the idea that it will be used as preparation for competing in the job market. It is hoped that these students will take the time to consider Wilson’s example and use it to help them succeed in educational and vocational pursuits, but also in pursuit of living a productive and rewarding life as Wilson has.