Chris Street was really good at basketball, but this 12-year-old was really focused on just one part of the game.
There have been other things that are really great written about Chris Street this week, and you should read them all.
Chris Street died in a tragic accident 20 years ago this week. For many in our community, that anniversary might come and go without much thought. I am 32 years old, which means I was 12 when he died, and I am an old man around here. Ross is younger than me by a few years and doesn't remember much about Chris Street. There isn't a player on the current roster with an independent first-hand memory of #40; most of them were born after the accident. Such is the nature of college athletics: While 20 years in real life is nearly a generation, that same time frame is at least five generations in college sports.
I would be lying if I said I had significant personal memories from his three seasons at Iowa. It's not to disparage him as a player; on the contrary, Chris was an exemplary basketball player and athlete, as shown in both his career statistics and the outpouring of praise from coaches and observers this week. It's just that I was 12 years old.
When I was small -- like, seven years old -- I participated every year in a "Hoop Shoot" contest at my school. The premise was simple: All the contestants got in a line and shot from the same spot on the court. If you made your shot, you went to the back of the line and would shoot again from the same spot. If you missed, you were out. For the little kids, the spot was in the center of the lane. For kids 11 and up, it was the free throw line.
I was really good at these contests, despite my general ineptitude as a basketball player. My dad was a school administrator with keys to the gym and occasional babysitting duty, so he would mark off the Hoop Shoot line with masking tape and let me spend an hour or two practicing one shot. I won our local contest a couple of times early in elementary school.
Then I turned 11, and that meant free throws, and free throws were really hard. For one, it wasn't a set shot (at least not for a fourth grader), which meant additional muscle memory was needed. For another, I was not the strongest kid in the world, and just getting the ball to the rim was a chore. I lost Hoop Shoot at 11, and lost badly.
The next winter was why I remember Chris Street, because Chris Street just started draining free throws. He shot 100 percent from the line in wins against Central Connecticut State and Drake. He was a perfect 17-for-17 in three Big Ten games against Indiana, Ohio State, and Minnesota. He was perfect in his final game, against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, sinking two shots late in the first half to set the all-time Iowa record for consecutive free throws made. It's a goofy record, one of those obscure factoids you can throw around over beers but never really discussed.
Not for me. In that year when I was just struggling to make one free throw, it was like watching Joe DiMaggio. The streak became monumental to me. Because the record came against Duke, I got to watch it on CBS (yes, there was a time when only a few games a year were on TV), and I remember the shot going through. Jim Nantz mentioned the record, Tom Davis clapped his hands, and everyone went about their business. Street had done it. He was the Iowa Hawkeyes All-Time Hoop Shoot Champion. How long would the streak go? Could he get to 100 straight made free throws? Could he finish the rest of the season perfect from the line?
Days later, he was killed. Nobody has touched his streak since.
It's small in the grand scheme of things. Chris did so much as a player -- he was averaging a double-double when he died -- and had such a bright future ahead of him, that his free throwing prowess probably shouldn't be the headline. But anniversaries are for remembering, and on this one, that's what I remember about Chris Street.