By Adam Hensley and Peter Ruden
Duke fans are as passionate about basketball as any die-hards in the country; if you don’t bleed blue, the Dukies don’t want any part of you.
But for one night, an outsider captivated Blue Devil faithful.
Iowa played Duke on Jan. 16, 1993, in Cameron Indoor. The Hawkeyes lost to the Blue Devils, 65-56, but after the game, nationally recognized Iowa forward Chris Street and fellow members of the team went out for the night, walked around the campus, and attended a few parties.
“I just remember kids — even at Duke, even on Durham’s campus — just flocking to Chris,” teammate Wade Lookingbill said. “That was kind of how he was wherever he went, whether we were working a basketball camp with junior-high kids or if we were signing autographs after a game. Arguably the mecca of college basketball’s campus, people just gravitated to Chris.”
That game against Duke just so happened to be Street’s final contest in his No. 40 Hawkeye uniform, and his legacy, even 25 years later, was cemented shortly after.
Back in Iowa, just three days following his 14-point, 8-rebound performance in front of a sea of white and blue, Street was turning on Highway 1 on a snowy, foggy January evening. He pulled out in front of a snowplow, and the vehicles collided, flipping Street’s car onto another vehicle idling at a stoplight, killing the 20-year old.
25 years later
On Saturday, Iowa will honor Street in the Chris Street Forever 40 Memorial Game in Carver-Hawkeye against No. 3 Purdue. It has been a quarter of a century since the tragedy took the life of the former Indianola standout with the big smile. But those who were close to Street remember that day vividly.
“I think I was in the same state that the players were, and the other coaches,” former Iowa head coach Tom Davis said. “I think all of us were in some form of shock. You just [couldn’t] believe it. You don’t know how to cope with it. You don’t know what to do. It was disbelief for all of us.”
Davis said the team met in the locker room the night of Street’s accident. A man from one of the Christian groups on campus spoke, along with others in counseling. All were there to help the players and coaching staff attempt to handle Street’s passing.
The coach didn’t want to rush his players back into practice, but eventually, they returned to the gym following Street’s funeral.
“That was probably the best therapy for any of us,” Davis said.
Davis said Street was never self-centered — he was so well-liked because he was all about the team.
“He was one of the guys who couldn’t help but bring a smile to your face just about every time you talked to him,” Davis said.
Street’s mentality — both as a basketball player and as a person — remains prevalent today, especially among those who were close to him. Street exemplified the true meaning of being a Hawkeye.
Saturday’s basketball game against Purdue is just another basketball game on Iowa’s schedule, but the memory of Street lives on in his former teammates, coaches, and those currently affiliated with the Hawkeye basketball program.
Lookingbill, one of Street’s close friends and teammates at Iowa, described the him as “glad to be alive” and someone who “enjoyed the day” — traits in that Lookingbill thinks society needs more of.
“Whether it’s at junior high, high school, [or] college level, it’s just a basketball game … Carver is going to be crazy Saturday when Purdue comes to town, but all that being said, it is just a basketball game,” Lookingbill said. “Chris just liked to have fun — on the court, off the court.”
Off the court, Street spent his time hunting, fishing, and golfing, and his time on the green carries on to this day.
Street’s legacy today
Iowa basketball hosts a golf outing in memory of Street every year, and the team also distributes the Chris Street Award at the annual team banquet. It is given to the player who best exemplifies Street’s spirit, enthusiasm, and intensity.
Former Hawkeye guard Matt Gatens, who earned the Street Award in 2012, met Street as a baby but didn’t have any interaction with him aside from that.
Even though he doesn’t remember much about Street personally, being honored with the award meant a lot.
“It meant the world,” Gatens said. “As an Iowa kid growing up, I looked up to past winners … To join that fraternity was an honor to me, to represent one of my idols in Chris.
“It was a big deal to go up on stage and shake Chris’ dad’s hand as he gave me the award. It was emotional and a big deal for me and still is, and it’s an honor to win something named after one of your childhood heroes.”
In his time at Iowa, head coach Fran McCaffery has kept the Street family involved with the program, welcoming them to games and team events.
McCaffery joined Iowa’s program well aware of Street and the legacy he left behind, and he wanted to continue that recognition when he took over.
“It’s incredibly genuine, and it says a lot about Chris and his family that 25 years later, we’re still feeling that way,” McCaffery said at his Tuesday teleconference. “[The golf outing] is an annual event; it’s an opportunity for us to come together and remember him in a way that he deserves, because he epitomized everything you want in a student-athlete.”
40 isn’t just a number in Iowa City.
When the Hawkeyes take to the court on Saturday, the team will pass a plaque outside of the locker room dedicated to No. 40, Chris Street.
The Hawkeyes will also wear No. 40 shooting shirts during warm-ups, and Street’s jersey will cover an empty chair on the bench.
After all of the inspiration Street’s legacy has provided for the Iowa basketball program, the current Hawkeyes will have a chance to do what Street loved most.
“I hope it gives them motivation. Iowa needs a win … They’ve [got to] get things turned around,” Lookingbill said. “Maybe it’s good timing. Maybe it’s good timing that they’re recognizing Chris and the efforts that he had and how much he loved playing basketball for the University of Iowa.
“Maybe it’ll help the kids just get back to that and enjoy the game.”