Willie Banks was this nation’s most accomplished athlete in the triple jump in the 1970s and 1980s. He thrilled college track and field fans in 1975 with his dramatic record-breaking jump to beat USC in a historic dual meet, finished second in the NCAA Championships in 1977 and 1978, and broke the American triple jump record in 1981. He qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team but did not compete due to the U.S. Olympic Committee's boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, Russia. He was one of 461 athletes to receive a Congressional Gold Medal instead. Willie was a member of the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams and participated with the 1983 and 1987 IAAF World Championships in Athletics World Championship teams. In 1985, he set a world record in the triple jump and was awarded the Track & Field News and the United States Olympic Committee Athlete of the Year, going on to win the Jesse Owens Award as the Outstanding Athlete in Track and Field.
In the years since his record-setting achievements, Willie served USA Track & Field as chair of the Athletes Advisory Committee, in addition to serving as an organization vice president. He was President of the US Olympians Association from 2005 to 2008, and joined the newly reconstituted USATF Board of Directors in 2008.
Willie was inducted into the USA National Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1999 and continues to compete in “Masters” events. In 2006, he cleared an impressive 14.00 m to head the 2006 World Masters rankings in the 50–54 age group, just 7 cm behind that age group's world record. He won the 2007 World Masters Athletics Championships in that same age group, and on September 22, 2012, became the oldest American to clear 6 feet in the high jump at the age of 56 using just a 3-step approach and the classic "roll" technique.
Willie will always be remembered as one of the most flamboyant athletes to compete in track and field and is the originator of the now common hand clapping that takes place during many track and field events. He earned his B.A. and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from UCLA and went on to teach law in Japan before establishing HSJ, Inc., a successful import business focusing on commerce in Asia.