RICHMOND, Va. - “Jumpin’” Johnny Wilson, who helped break down racial barriers as an Indiana high school basketball star and later with the Harlem Globetrotters, died Friday after contracting pneumonia shortly after Christmas. He was 91.
Mr. Wilson was celebrated at the Richmond Coliseum at the end of December as the oldest living member of the Harlem Globetrotters, though he was unable to attend the event. He moved to Virginia about two years ago to live with his son, John Wilson Jr., in Chester.
Wilson Jr., an assistant athletic director at Virginia State University, said a memorial service for his father is scheduled for Saturday in his hometown of Anderson, Ind.
It was in Indiana where Mr. Wilson first burst onto the athletic scene, serving as the team captain at Anderson High School, where there is a statue of him outside the school. He was the first African-American “Mr. Basketball” in Indiana history.
It was his dream to play for the Indiana University Hoosiers, but he never got the opportunity because of his race. That barrier would be broken later.
Mr. Wilson was also denied the opportunity to play in the NBA and joined the barnstorming Globetrotters.
“I’m grateful they gave me the chance. It was the only basketball opportunity left,” he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in December.
After a career with the Globetrotters, Mr. Wilson coached high school and college basketball, and continued to share his story.
In addition to his son, Mr. Wilson is survived by a brother, Gene Wilson.