I walked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena a year ago today on an abnormally warm day in eastern Iowa for mid-January. Iowa was in the midst of their disappointing 14-win season, but I still made sure to get in line before the doors open to get a great spot in the student section. Doors open and I go get and great seat in the first row.
They had a sign-making station so I set my coat down in my spot to go make one. I’m not a very creative person artistically but I knew there was only one thing I wanted to have on my sign: #CMS40. The game between Iowa and Purdue that day was known as the Chris Street Memorial Game, as the game took place 25 years to the day when the namesake of the game passed away in a car accident.
I wasn’t around when Chris Street played, in fact my parents were around the same age as Chris and my dad says he remembers being one of the few people outside of Iowa City that knew what had happened before the rest of the state thanks to a mutual friend (Communication was a lot slower in 1993, pre-internet days).
But those who watched Chris Street play knew he was a star on the court. A product of Indianola High School, Street committed to Iowa as a junior, unheard of in that time period. What followed was Chris becoming one of the most beloved players the state of Iowa had ever seen in college basketball, and that was in a time when Fred Hoiberg was making himself known in Ames as “The Mayor”.
Street’s final game came in one of the Seven Wonders of College Basketball: Cameron Indoor Stadium against Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils. The game is so memorable because Street set the Iowa record for consecutive free throws made in that game at 34, a game in which Iowa 65-56 against the defending National Champions.
Chris would not get a chance to extend the streak, on January 19th, 1993, he was killed in a car crash as he tried to turn onto Iowa Highway 1 and pulled out in front of snowplow and was blindsided. He was 20 years old. Shock waves were sent through the state as friends, family and rivals mourned the loss of one of their own.
Fast-forward back to 2018, I sit back down in my seat with my sign and a large group of people are stationed just off the court taking pictures. Two ladies turn around and notice my sign and asked if they could get a picture of me with it and obviously I obliged.
I eventually got around to inquiring who the kind ladies were that took the picture: they just so happened to be Chris’s aunt and one of Chris’s sisters. To put it simply, I was starstruck and felt very honored. I told them how much I respected and appreciated his legacy and I could tell it meant a lot them.
At halftime, the university honored Chris as members of that 1992-93 Iowa team came back to honor their fallen brother along with former head coach Dr. Tom Davis and Chris’s parents, Mike and Patty. There wasn’t a dry eye in the arena as Chris’s gold #40 jersey with the script “Iowa” on the front rested on a seat on the Iowa bench in the area where the coaches sit.
The game itself was nowhere near as touching as the halftime ceremony as the third-ranked Boilermakers ran Iowa out of the gym 87-64 and set a Big Ten-record in three-pointers made in a single game. But nonetheless, it was still an emotional day to remember one of the greats to ever don the Black and Gold.
I never watched a Chris Street play a minute of basketball at the University of Iowa, but his legacy looms large in the building he once dominated in. Mike and Patty still attend every home game and have a great relationship with Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who has done nothing but embraced Street’s legacy.
But at this time of year, we’re all reminded by those who watched him how special he was, not just as a basketball player, but as a person. I heard stories of how Chris would never leave until everyone got his autograph and how he would love taking time to talk to little kids who more than idolized the 6′ 9″ giant.
Everyone in the world talks about how they want better themselves and how they want to be remembered by all of these superlatives and to me, there’s only one that really matters, being a good person. That’s what Chris Street was, a good man, and that’s all the vindication anyone needs in life.