Jan. 16, 2013
Editor's Note: The following piece first appeared in the January issue of the UI Athletics Department's Hawk Talk Monthly.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- If Feb. 3, 1959, is the day the music died, then Jan. 19, 1993, is the day basketball died.
It died in Iowa City, Indianola, the state of Iowa, and across the United States on a cold, dark winter evening when University of Iowa junior men's basketball player Chris Street lost his life in a car-snowplow accident after leaving a team meal.
A bit of basketball died in everyone on Jan. 19, 1993, a date that is remembered as one of the saddest days in basketball history, one of the saddest days in Hawkeye history.
The day the music died -- when a plane crash killed rock-and-roll superstars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Vallens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson -- has been memorialized through song, monuments, and concerts. Twenty years later, the day basketball died has not been forgotten, either.
On Jan. 19, 2013, in game against Wisconsin -- the 20th anniversary of Street's death -- the Hawkeyes will honor Street's memory. Past recipients of the Chris Street Award will be recognized, along with the Street family.
FORMER IOWA COACHES REMEMBER NO. 40
There isn't a day that goes by when former University of Iowa men's basketball coach Tom Davis doesn't think of Street, his former all-conference forward. Street was talented on the basketball court, but it is more the person that Davis remembers.
"You had to like him," said Davis. "I didn't know anybody that didn't like him. He made you smile. He was always the first guy to take pleasure in somebody else's success or somebody else's great play."
Coming out of Indianola as a three-sport star, Davis knew of Street at an early age, but the two didn't further their relationship until the Iowa Basketball Summer Camp in 1989.
"You had to like him. I didn't know anybody that didn't like him. He made you smile. He was always the first guy to take pleasure in somebody else's success or somebody else's great play."
Former UI head coach Tom Davis
"That's when I got to know him a little bit, spending time with him, visiting, and working with him," said Davis. "You could see all these personal qualities that went beyond his physical capabilities."
Davis says Street had all the gifts of a leader, even at a young age.
"As a parent, he is everything you would want," Davis said. "He was a man's man, even as a 14-15 year old. He had that something about him. He was intense, tough, and fun-loving. He had all the personality traits of leadership, was inspirational, even though he was just a kid.
"When you put on top his physical skills, he was a pretty special young man."
Former UI men's basketball assistant coach Gary Close recalls the day when the Hawkeyes extended a scholarship offer to Street.
"We offered him, and Mike (Chris' dad) said `Whoa, whoa, whoa... wait a second," said Close. "He's an All-American quarterback, he can throw fastballs 95 miles per hour, and he's a good basketball player. We don't know what sport he's going to play, much less where he's going to go.'
"They called on the way home from camp, and he said he wanted to be a Hawkeye. When he had something he wanted to accomplish, he bore in and did it. That's what he grew up wanting to be and do, and as soon as he had the opportunity, he jumped in."
Davis still has a hard time remembering the events of Jan. 19, 1993.
"My wife remembers many of the details better than I do," he said. "This was true immediately after, because it's like you're in a fog."
"A lot of that night is a blur," said Close, who coached at Iowa from 1986-99. "There is no blueprint for how you react; it's too close, too tough. We got through it, but you'll never get over it. It's part of your life forever."
In his days after coaching, Davis still reflects often on that night.
"I know it's on people's minds 20 years later," said Davis. "It's something people want to talk and hear about. I'm glad to do it... it's good to talk about, but it's not easy. It has always been hard to do without being really emotional. If I get into certain topics, I have trouble, and the emotions overwhelm me to this day."
Three days before the accident, Street led the Hawkeyes in a road game at nationally ranked Duke inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Street finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, but the Hawkeyes came up on the short end of a 65-56 defeat.
"It was like a heavyweight boxing match," recalls Close of Street's final game. "It was like trading blows to the very end, and we just ran out of time. Chris was in the middle of it all. If you're going to go down there and compete with Duke, you have to go down there with toughness."
It was Street's performance that night in front of a national television audience that made his passing national news.
"Back then, there weren't many games televised nationally, so if you had a nationally televised game, it was a big deal," said Davis. "The fact that we had just played Duke on national television, and Chris had done what he had done, played like he played, it was fresh in people's minds.
"I think if he would have lived, he would have continued to add to his athletic accomplishments. I don't think there is any question that he would have played in the NBA. If he had stayed healthy, I think he would have had a long, long NBA career... I don't think there is any doubt."
Former Iowa assistant coach Gary Close
"Chris had already established a reputation as a good hard-nosed and talented player. People in the Big Ten knew and had great respect for him, and I think it was getting a national buzz by the word of mouth of what type of player he was becoming."
Close saw what type of player Street was every day in practice, and knew bigger things -- specifically the National Basketball Association (NBA) -- would have come calling.
"I think if he would have lived, he would have continued to add to his athletic accomplishments," said Close. "I don't think there is any question that he would have played in the NBA. If he had stayed healthy, I think he would have had a long, long NBA career... I don't think there is any doubt."
Close, who will be on the opposing bench with Wisconsin during the 20-year anniversary, remembers Street as "a guy that got the most out of what he had."
"He was incredibly hard-working, but he put his teammates, coaches and friends first," said Close. "He is the kind of guy that would give his shirt off his back. He kept working and improving, and had dramatic impact on people because he was unselfish and hard-working.
"He had all the character traits you would want in somebody you want to be around, would want to marry your daughter or be your teammate or husband. He was that type of kid."
Street is a guy that is hard to forget.
JAN. 19, 1993, WAS `SADDEST DAY' FOR FORMER IOWA SID
Phil Haddy, who retired in July after more than 40 years with the UI athletics department, called the death of Street, "the saddest moment, without question" during his tenure.
"That whole week, maybe the rest of the season, was sad," Haddy said. "It wasn't the same. Everything was about Chris not being with us."
Haddy called Street a "Hawkeye, through and through." On many road trips, Haddy recalls Street sitting in the back of the bus or plane and listening to veterans in the news media -- Bob Brooks and Ron Gonder -- tell Hawkeye stories from the past.
"He was a guy that everybody liked," Haddy said. "He was a true Hawkeye."
"He was a guy that everybody liked. He was a true Hawkeye."
Former Iowa Sports Information Director Phil Haddy
In his final game, Street wowed the nation with a 14-point, eight-rebound performance; host Duke used a second-half run to win by nine.
"He was so good on the front of that press," said former Iowa Select teammate Fred Hoiberg, now head coach at Iowa State. "It was so hard to get the ball in on him -- he stood two feet over the line when you were trying to throw the ball in -- he was great at it."
Because of Street's death, the Hawkeyes didn't return to the court until Jan. 28 at Michigan State.
"The first game we actually played (after Street's death) was at Michigan State, and it was one of the weirdest things," Haddy said. "I remember the night before the game -- it's hard to imagine if you hadn't been there -- looking into a tunnel looking out at the court. I was looking out at our team from a very narrow spot through a tunnel. I thought I saw Chris out there. I just broke down right then, because he should have been there."
Val Barnes scored 29 points and Acie Earl added 27 points and 16 rebounds, and the Hawkeyes won the game, 96-90, in overtime.
"There wasn't a dry eye in the locker room afterward," Haddy said. "Everybody was pointing up to the sky because Chris was the emotional lift that carried Iowa to victory against two outstanding teams -- Michigan State and Michigan."
Three days after the overtime win in East Lansing, Iowa hosted Michigan and its Fab Five of Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. Iowa won, 88-80, behind 27 points from Barnes and a 19-point, five-blocked shot effort from Earl.
The Hawkeyes finished 23-9 overall, 11-7 in the Big Ten. They defeated Northeast Louisiana in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before being eliminated by Wake Forest, 84-78.
EARL REMINISCES ABOUT FALLEN TEAMMATE
During his recent stint as freshman basketball coach at Solon (Iowa) High School, Earl would take the Dodge Street exit off Interstate 80 and head north toward Solon. Every time he made the drive, it took him past the site where his teammate was killed.
"For years, I drove by that spot every day and sometimes twice a day," said Earl. "It doesn't look the same, but you can't help but think about it."
During that spring semester, Earl and Street were enrolled in the same night class. The night of the accident, it set off a trigger when Street wasn't in attendance.
"I was going to the gym after class, and Chris hadn't shown up that night," said Earl. "That kind of threw me off. When I went to Carver, everybody was over there, crying and mourning. It is a night I won't forget."
"I am not an emotional person or someone who reflects on death or bad things. I think about that night and Chris a couple times a week. He grew a lot when he came to Iowa and worked his way into being a good player. He was a great teammate."
Earl said returning to the court after the accident was difficult for the team. Even in the 96-90 overtime victory at Michigan State, he said the Hawkeyes were almost going through the motions.
"We had a mindset to just go play the Michigan State game because we had to," said Earl, who played that first game with Street's No. 40 shaved in the hair on the back of his head. "We were going to go and do it for Chris."
After the game, Earl recalled an emotional locker room.
"It was jubilation," he said. "You had some adults and older people who had gone through death, but I am not sure many of us at that time had gone through any death that was significant. All the emotions in that room... we didn't know what we had done until it was over.
"We made a few plays, had some momentum, and won that game. That kind of set us on track."
Earl thinks often about the events of Jan. 19, 1993.
"I am not an emotional person or someone who reflects on death or bad things," said Earl. "I think about that night and Chris a couple times a week. He grew a lot when he came to Iowa and worked his way into being a good player. He was a great teammate."
Jan. 19, 1993, is the day Chris Street died. To many, it is also the day basketball died.