Remembering Ball State Alumnus Bonzi Wells’ NBA Career 25 Years After His Debut

Basketball court on 3d illustration
Basketball court on 3d illustration

When a college sports star leaves behind a legacy so storied that their jersey number is retired, you know they will forever be remembered fondly. And that’s the case with Ball State and Bonzi Wells, who smashed the Mid-American Conference points record and even had the ball presented to him mid-match by then-university president John Worthen.

Wells would guide the Cardinals to the NCAA tournament before Ball State retired his famous number 42 jersey in recognition of his outstanding service. Soon, the time would come for ‘Bonzi’ to step up to the professional ranks, and what a career he would enjoy – a career that started 25 years ago in 1998…

Blazing a Trail

Sports betting was legal in Las Vegas back in the 1990s, but few would have been placing their wagers on the Portland Trail Blazers to win the NBA Championship at the time – in fact, the franchise was as widely ignored then as they are now in the latest basketball odds due to their woes out on the court.

Ironically, Bonzi’s career should have started in Detroit – he was drafted by the Pistons in 1998 but ended up being traded to the Trail Blazers in return for their 1999 first-round pick without even stepping foot on the court.

To offer some context to how influential Wells would become, he was made co-captain of the team alongside Rasheed Wallace while still in his early twenties, with the 2001-02 season perhaps the finest of his time in Portland – he averaged 17 points per game with a more-than-respectable .384 three-point success rate.

A heartbreaking defeat to a high-quality Dallas Mavericks franchise during the 2003 playoffs would effectively be Bonzi’s last act in Portland, where he’ll be remembered for his leadership of a chaotic group of players who finally got their collective game together during that 2003 campaign.

On the Road

Despite his obvious talent, Bonzi never quite hit the heights again in what became something of a journeyman career that took in stints in Memphis, Sacramento, Houston, and New Orleans.

Hubie Brown’s infamous 10-man rotation policy meant that Wells didn’t get a whole bunch of game time with the Grizzlies – although he played a part in Memphis’ first-ever run to the playoffs in their history.

A switch to Sacramento in 2005 saw Bonzi reunited with the number 42 jersey he had worn with distinction at Ball State, and that seemed to spur on the versatile all-courter – he played more minutes per game than at any other point in his career, as well as serving his personal best rebound and steal averages as the Kings made it to the playoffs, where he also delivered 23 points per game in a losing series against the San Antonio Spurs.

Injuries would derail Bonzi’s spells at the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets (as they were then known) before a lucrative offer came in for him from Chinese outfit Shanxi Zhongyu – he amassed 48 points on an incredible debut for the team.

At the end of his playing career, Bonzi became a coach – he now pulls the strings at Georgia Tech – and he returned to Ball State in 2014 to finish his degree, reflecting that his parents’ faces at his graduation ceremony went down as his ‘favorite memory’.

So all hail Bonzi Wells. Who will be the next Ball State grad to emulate him in the NBA?

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