MORGAN PARK — Dejuan Thurman had just finished playing an epic basketball game when he decided to walk home instead of catching a ride on a mild October night.
“You know how they say there's that special stuff in the air? He whupped everybody that night,” Thurman’s friend Victor Scott said.
But during the short walk from a Morgan Park basketball court to his parent’s house, the 36-year-old father and former high school basketball star was shot, possibly during a robbery, the victim’s friend said.
Thurman, of the 11300 block of South May Street, died from a gunshot wound to his torso on Nov. 17, weeks after the shooting, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Scott, a 45-year-old steel company manager, had been good friends with Thurman for 17 years, a friendship forged through numerous games.
"Juan could go in and bang you down low like Charles Barkley," Scott said. "Juan could shoot the ball with a feathery touch like Larry Bird."
Something took hold of Thurman the night of Oct. 17 when the two played nine full-court games, Scott said days after his friend's death. For his last time on the basketball court, Thurman put on a show.
Thurman was born to play, checking in at 6-feet 4-inches tall and weighing 235 pounds. His play earned him a college scholarship, Scott said, and his 46 points for Quincy High School during a Thanksgiving basketball tournament is a record that stands to this day.
After the game that night, Scott offered Thurman a ride. He declined, opting to walk the short distance back to his parents' house.
"Twenty minutes after we left the court, people started calling me and told me Juan was shot," Scott said.
Police said three men approached Thurman before the shooting, but provided few details about what happened.
Scott said the men were attempting to rob his friend at gunpoint. Even though he threw his money on the ground, someone shot him, he said.
"They tried to walk him back into the house, but he wasn't trying to get walked back into his mom and dad's house with a gun," Scott said. "He pushed them off and tried to run, and they shot him. That was it."
While Thurman "was like a train coming" on the court, his off-court demeanor was totally opposite, Scott said.
"Off the court, he was the nicest guy you could meet," he said. "That's what has us all perturbed about what happened."
Thurman fought in the hospital, Scott said. He regained consciousness and was fed solids before his health deteriorated.
Scott said he visited every day and keeps listening to a voice message Thurman left him from the hospital, asking for a fan.
The two would sit in the hospital room, watching basketball and football, Scott said.
"He talked about how lucky he was to still be alive, how much he loved his kids," Scott said.
Thurman leaves behind four children between the ages of 6 and 18, Scott said.
Leron Garrett, remembered Thurman as a "gentle giant," and a person everyone loved, he said standing outside Thurman's home in the 11300 block of South May Street.
Garrett, 35, a Chicago bus driver, said he grew up with the victim and felt as if a family member died.
"The most hurtful thing is going to be seeing his kids without him," Garrett said. "It's a shock that this happened to him."
He coached his son's basketball team earlier this year, Scott said, and loved his kids.
"At 3 o'clock every day he was going to get his boys from school," Scott said. "He was a big part of what was going on with his kids."
Scott said he is shocked that Thurman's health took such a fast and fatal turn.
"For him to go that fast, I can't believe it," Scott said. "I really thought we was gonna walk out of there together."