It was January 19, 1993. I was less than one year removed from college and I was teaching in northwest Iowa. A very small town (Ruthven) of 400 people. More about Ruthven later. I was living on my own and basically had zero social life. Iowa basketball was about the only thing that helped me get through the winter. That all came crashing down that night. I had my TV on but my volume turned down. ESPN had a picture of Chris Street on the screen. I turned it up as he was my favorite player, and I couldn’t get enough Hawkeye news. It was the worst news a person could hear. The smiling, energetic, hustling, life-enjoying, basketball player I had grown to love was no more. It was my first experience with death. I was in disbelief and called my family members as I thought it couldn’t be real. I don’t remember much else about that night, but I remember crying uncontrollably for a significant portion of the evening.
I went to school the next day and there were more tears. Teachers. Students. Bus drivers. Practically everyone. Chris had played some summer ball with Ruthven’s own Loren Meyer. At the time Meyer’s girlfriend was one of my students. Loren and Chris had remained friends. If I recall correctly, Loren and a few other Iowa State Cyclones attended Chris’ funeral. Iowa State even gave the #40 jersey to an Iowa kid for a number of years after this accident. Street was the type of person and player that brought people together. To watch him was to love him. He was admired by coaches that he faced. Every coach I know would love to have someone like Chris represent their program. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said: “Chris was a relentless competitor.” Indiana Coach Bob Knight asked, “What could be more tragic?” Big Ten head coaches Bill Foster (NW) and Clem Haskins (Minnesota) attended Chris’ service. Judd Heathcote (MSU), Gene Keady (Purdue), and Steve Fisher (Michigan), all publicly commented on how special Chris was. He played every game like it was his last. Unfortunately, that ended up being the case. His last game was perhaps fittingly played at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. I don’t like Duke, but their quaint arena is a hoops mecca.
Chris balled out that night. He set the Iowa record for consecutive free throws, 34. This of course became famous when Jordan Bohannon purposely missed his 35th attempt that would have set a new record. Bohannon stated simply, “It wasn’t my record to break.”
There is no doubt that Chris would have had a long, storied NBA career. He was an athletic 6’8” player who could shoot, run, defend, and rebound. I can still see him at the top of Dr. Tom Davis’ diamond press, clapping those hands, and making life miserable for the inbounder. That’s the Chris I remember. His smile was contagious. His hustle was contagious. What has stuck with me all of these years is that I regret Chris was never able to be a husband and a dad. He would have excelled at those just like everything else he did. Basketball has always been an important part of my life, and all of a sudden it became insignificant.
Much has been written about the games following Chris’ passing. The come-from-behind miracle at Michigan State. Taking down the Fab Five at Carver. The players giving the game ball to the Street family. I honestly cry every time I watch these highlights. I’ve wanted to reach out to the Street family for years, but I haven’t done so. Even though I never met Chris, or even saw him play in person, it felt like he was a friend/brother to me. I doubt I’m the only one who had these feelings. I’m sure the family knows he was loved and is still loved by so many people who have gone on to have their own children.
I ended up coaching high school basketball in Minnesota for many years. Every year I would pick out a student-athlete who I thought played the game the way Chris played, and I would tell him about Chris and his story. I then would ask him if he’d like to wear #40. Each young man wore that jersey with pride. I could go on and on, but I’m wondering if we could post some comments about other people’s recollections of CMS40. Chris, you will forever be my favorite Hawkeye. Thank you. Go Hawks!
Editor’s Note: While Iowa’s matchup against Northwestern originally scheduled for Wednesday at 8pm CT has been delayed due to COVID issues with the Wildcat program. In lieu of the game, the Big Ten Network is set to air a special on Chris Street, which was planned to air after the completion of the game. It seems both ominous and fitting that 30 years after Street’s passing, another hole appears in the Hawkeye schedule giving Iowa fans an opportunity to remember and praise the memory of the ultimate Hawkeye.