Former Hawkeye Chris Street's legacy lives on
Originally published on Jan. 13, 2013.
Chris Street's spirit lives in an upstairs bedroom of his parents' rural Milo home.
His black-and-gold basketball shoes are there. So is the stool that once sat in front of his Carver-Hawkeye Arena locker. There are plaques, portraits, his personalized HAWK 40 vanity license plate. The room radiates with photographs of Street flashing his trademark smile.
On one corner of a dresser rests a picture of Street, held in place by a small metal angel. Heaven knows, this bedroom tells a story of a life lost too soon.
Twenty years ago Saturday — Jan. 19, 1993 — Christopher Michael Street died in an automobile accident on the outskirts of Iowa City when his Chrysler LeBaron collided with a Johnson County snowplow. It was a death that shook much more than the Street family tree. It touched an entire state.
"You can still tell, today, how much he impacted the state of Iowa," said Kenyon Murray, who was a freshman that season when Street took him under his wing. "People still remember him and reflect upon him and still talk about what a great person and player he was. He did a lot for us during his life. He's done a lot more for us in his passing."
Street was a hard-working, gregarious, self-made 20-year-old junior and basketball standout at the University of Iowa. He was No. 40, emotion in motion, the embodiment of Midwestern work ethic.
"One minute it seems like it was just yesterday," said his mom, Patty Street, her fingers subconsciously rubbing the No. 40 charm she wears around her neck. "And the next minute I think, 'Oh my goodness, 20 years … how could we have gone without him for 20 years?"
The University of Iowa will honor Street when the Hawkeyes host Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday. Among those who will be on hand: Kim Vinton Williams, Street's former girlfriend.
Kim was in the car with Street at the time of the accident, shortly after a team meal at the Highlander Supper Club. She and Street had been a couple since they were 15-year-old sophomores at Indianola High School.
Her memory of the crash, just north of the intersection of Highway 1 and Interstate 80, remains vacant space. For that, she is thankful. But she's never forgotten Street.
"I still think about Chris every day," said Kim, who is married, has two sons and lives in Iowa City.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena was Street's stage, the place where he played his way into the hearts of Iowa fans — and opponents — with his no-surrender style of play.
"He was everything that's good about sports, everything that's good about college basketball, you know?" Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "He worked his tail off. He was not an elite talent. Just a man-made great player."
TEARS DON'T GO AWAY
In a corner of the Streets' living room, a Christmas tree stands as a tribute to their son. It first went up 10 years ago.
"That's a special tree to us," Patty said.
There are ornaments honoring Chris as well as Mike and Patty's grandchildren. Daughter Betsy has three children, including twins born last month. Daughter Sarah has two children. The Streets put up the tree the second week of November. It comes down on Feb. 2, his birthday.
The tears still come, too, sometimes with no advance warning.
"It's a good cry," Patty said.
Mike cherishes a saying that was passed on to him after his son died: Every tear now represents a time of joy before.
"If you don't have those joyful events, you wouldn't be crying about it now," Mike said. "We've shed a lot of tears. We still do. And that's OK."
The Streets appreciate every kind word spoken about their son, 20 years after he left.
"But I think about all these parents who have lost a child, and they don't have that," Patty said. "I want to cry for them. Because it's meant so much to us. And to think of those poor parents. Their child was just as special to them as Christopher was to us. Sometimes, I feel guilty about that."
The Streets take solace in the fact that their son continues to touch so many lives.
"A lot of people just knew him as a basketball player," Patty said. "But it just makes me feel so good that he cared about people."
That, more than the points and rebounds, is Chris Street's living legacy.
"It comes back to the individual he was," Mike said. "Hard work is great. But being a great person is important, too. He took time for people. He remembered where he came from. That's the way people remember him."
Patty continues to maintain a section of the trophy case at Indianola High School that is dedicated to her son. Mike made T-shirts honoring the 20th anniversary of his son's passing. The Hawkeyes will warm up in those T-shirts Saturday.
Chris Street was raised on Hawkeye basketball. As a youngster growing up in Humeston, he'd join his parents with five or six other families to watch Iowa games on television. The summer before his junior year at Indianola, he accepted coach Tom Davis' scholarship offer to become the youngest player to commit to the Iowa program.
And that's the memory the HAWK 40 license plate, sitting in the room dedicated to his too-short life, has for his dad.
"Of all the things he was, he was a Hawkeye basketball player," Mike said. "That's what he wanted to be, and he was. That was his number … Hawk 40. He was living his dream."
A COACH'S LIFE CHANGED
Street's death rocked his college coach, Tom Davis, and changed him forever. Davis had to tell his players in a tearful Carver-Hawkeye Arena meeting that Street was gone.
"It brought home the reality of how short life is, and you should appreciate every day, every relationship, your family, your team," Davis said. "There's no doubt it still impacts me."
Davis said it's good to remember Street and what he represented. But that doesn't make it any easier to accept.
"I still do a little bit of speaking," said Davis, who lives in Iowa City. "There might be a question-and-answer session, and a lot of times they want to know about Chris. It's a very common question. But it's hard for me to talk about. It's still a sensitive subject."
Twenty years. Can it be?
"In some ways it seems like a long time ago," Davis said. "And in some ways it feels like it just happened."
40 ALWAYS A SPECIAL NUMBER
No one was closer to Street than Gary Close, a Hawkeye assistant coach under Davis. Close recruited Street. He was at his side for many individual workouts. When Close married Kelli Holder in Iowa City on June 19, 1999, a memorial candle burned in Street's honor.
Close, now an assistant at Wisconsin, thinks of Street every time he sees someone in a No. 40 uniform — any sport.
"There's no question it pops into your head," Close said. "Sometimes I get a little down about it. And sometimes it puts a smile on my face, because there was a lot of positive (to remember) as well."
Close has one of Street's game jerseys framed and hanging in his home. And Close's 12-year-old son, Sam, who wants to become a player like Street was, has asked his dad about Street.
"I'll tell him, 'At one time he was your age, and he had a dream,'" Close said.
CHRIS' COUSIN NEVER FORGETS
Cousins Chad and Chris Street were the brothers neither one had. Chad, two years older, spent a lot of time with Chris growing up. Chad's dad, Jerry, and Mike are brothers. Chad's mom, Linda, and Patty are sisters. His cousin's death was crushing.
"I think it jolted me, that you can't take life for granted," Chad said. "I still try and keep his memory alive."
Today, Chad is an administrator at Des Moines East High School. As a school improvement leader, he mentors kids on a daily basis. And he uses his late cousin to help him do it.
Chad has a picture of Chris in his office.
"Some kids ask if it's my brother," Chad said. "It's amazing to me that 20 years later, at East, a metro high school, that at least half of them know who he was."
On Chad's school webpage, he's included this quote from Chris: "If you give 100 percent all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end."
Chad uses Chris' quote with kids for motivation.
"There's no quick and easy answer," he tells them. "It's hard work and effort."
MEMORIALS TO CHRIS
A high school teammate of Street's at Indianola, Bruce Overton, named his first son Chris in honor of his fallen teammate. So did Murray, after calling Patty for her permission.
There are others, though the Streets have no idea how many kids were named after their son. The city park in Humeston is named after him. There are basketball courts in his name at Moats Park in Indianola, and two Chris Street Memorial youth basketball tournaments are played each year. Some of the games take place in the Chris Street Memorial Gym, attached to Indianola Middle School.
Each summer, the most valuable player of the Prime Time League in North Liberty gets an award named after Street. And the Iowa basketball program annually presents the Chris Street Award to a player who "best exemplifies the spirit, enthusiasm and intensity of Chris Street."
A nine-year-old whose name would eventually be known statewide by basketball fans, Jeff Horner, had just walked into the kitchen of the family home in Mason City the morning of Jan. 20, 1993, when his sister told him Street had died the night before.
"My heart just sunk," Horner said.
Street's death motivated him.
"I just said to myself, 'Play every play like it's your last, work hard and play hard.' Because that's what he did," said Horner, a four-year starter at Iowa (from 2003-06) who won the Street award as a freshman.
Another Street award winner was Duez Henderson, in 2002.
"I didn't grow up in Iowa," Henderson said. "But I quickly learned about the passion Chris Street played with and the type of person he was and the effect he had on people around here."
Henderson now runs Bound 4 Glory Sports, a youth developmental basketball program, with former Iowa player Jason Price. In November, Henderson coached a team in the Chris Street Memorial Tournament in Indianola.
"I told them, 'Hey, guys, I'm constantly telling you about playing with passion, playing the game the right way, playing hard,'" Henderson said. "This tournament is in honor of a guy who did that the best he could."
Murray, who owns Legacy Basketball Academy, has coached a team that included his twin sons Kris and Keegan to victory in the Street tournament the past two seasons.
"I got pretty emotional afterwards," Murray said.
CURRENT HAWKEYE IMPACTED
A sophomore on this year's Iowa team, Aaron White, has heard the comparisons between himself and Chris Street.
"That's a huge compliment," White said. "I had never heard of him, to be honest with you, until I got here."
White, a forward is from Strongsville, Ohio, is well-versed in Street now. He always looks at a memorial in honor of Street outside the Iowa locker room.
"One day he's one of the best players in the Big Ten," White said. "The next day, he's not here."
Twenty years later, Street has changed the way White approaches basketball and life.
"You can't take a day for granted," White said. "You never know what's going to happen to you. … You have to be thankful for every day you live on this earth.
"When I walk by that (memorial), that's what I think about. He's a role model for all of us."