Book excerpt: Chris Street's final game with the Iowa Hawkeyes
The following is an excerpt from former Register sports reporter and columnist Rick Brown's new book "Emotion in Motion: The Life and Legacy of Chris Street." Iowa basketball is honoring Street, a beloved Hawkeye basketball star who died Jan. 19, 1993 at the age of 20, on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Brown's biography about Street is currently available to buy online here and will be available at Black and Gold Shop locations throughout Iowa.
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Chad Ahlers had always wanted to make a road trip to see his former Indianola High School teammate play in college. And this was a perfect opportunity: his friend Chris Street and 13th-ranked Iowa at third-ranked Duke on Jan. 16, 1993, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C. CBS was there to televise the game nationally, with Jim Nantz doing the play-by-play and Billy Packer in the analyst’s chair.
“It was me and Matt Sallee, another friend of Chris’ from high school,” Ahlers said. “We decided we wanted to make the trip, and we got a hold of Chris to see if he could get us some tickets. We made the flight out there. It’s a trip I’ll cherish forever, because we were able to spend some time with him.”
Ahlers and Sallee were seated behind the Iowa bench, and they were not shy about yelling at Duke’s players, most notably guard Bobby Hurley.
“We were having a good time getting after them, that’s for sure,” Ahlers said.
The old friends were a soothing tonic in a basketball hotbed known to be tough on opponents.
“Any time Chris got a little unnerved, he was able to look over and see some familiar faces from back home right behind the bench,” Ahlers said. “And I think that helped. He mentioned that it was just really nice, in that atmosphere, to be able to look over and see some familiar faces.”
Also behind the bench that day were Linda and Jim Street, his aunt and uncle.
“I traveled the country quite a bit for work,” Jim said. “They would always have tickets for the away games, and I would jump on those. I had always wanted to go to a game at Duke.”
So the Streets made the trip, and took their nephew to dinner at a steak house the night before the game.
“We had a good time,” Jim recalled. “We talked to him about his future. He was really focused on getting into the business college. My wife and I walked away thinking, ‘Boy, he’s got his head on square.’ I wish he could have played in the NBA, just for the experience. But I think he would have gone ahead and gotten his education based on the conversation we had with him about the business school. Whatever he did (in basketball), he knew it wouldn’t last, and he had to fall back on something.”
MORE ON CHRIS STREET: His parents share the power of their son's legacy
Duke’s 65-56 victory the next afternoon was not a game for the faint of heart. The Blue Devils had defeated Iowa the previous two seasons while winning the NCAA title. The Hawkeyes had no intentions of backing down.
Two players reflected the intensity of this game — Street and Hurley, Duke’s all-American guard.
They were shouting at each other at one point of the game.
“I think I blocked his shot and he felt it was a foul,” Street said. “I just talked back to him. It was no big deal.”
Late in the game, after Hurley had been fouled intentionally by Kevin Smith, Bobby made a gesture toward Street.
“That was kind of cheap,” Street said. “I wish he wouldn’t have done it.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took Hurley out of the game.
“There seemed to be a lot of talking there for both teams,” Krzyzewski said.
Street finished the game with 14 points and nine rebounds in a losing effort. But he won the respect of the Cameron Crazies, Duke’s student body section, for his all-out style of play.
“That game was a flat-out war,” said Gary Close, who was an assistant coach at Iowa from 1986 to 1999. “Chris was the best player on the floor that day, bar none. Late in the game, Hurley took the ball out of bounds against our pressure, and he’s whining to the officials about how physical it was, how (Street) was standing too close, and this and that. And Chris said, ‘Why don’t you just shut up and play?’”
Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the atmosphere, played right into Street’s emotional wheelhouse.
“He ate it up,” Close said. “He loved it.”
Noted author John Feinstein covered that Duke-Iowa game for The Washington Post.
“It was a very physical, tough game,” Feinstein recalled. “Duke was the defending national champion, and Iowa was very good. And Street was really mixing it up with the Duke guys. At the end of the game, Hurley was on the foul line and you knew Duke was going to win it. And Street walked up behind Hurley and he just kind of patted him on the back, like, ‘Hey, Bobby, good game, no hard feelings.’ It was one of those cool moments you have in a game.”
Duke guard Chris Collins remembers it as a “big-time college basketball game. Great atmosphere. Both teams were really good.
"Iowa was such a high-energy team, and (Street) is the guy who spearheaded it all," Collins said. "Coach (Tom) Davis used the press the whole game, and he was the guy at the head of that press. His length was so disruptive. And he would never back down from any challenges. He wasn’t afraid to mix it up.”
Iowa attempted just five free throws in the game. But two of them, with 2 minutes 42 seconds remaining in the first half, were significant.
Street gathered in a missed shot attempt by Val Barnes on the left side of the lane, near the basket. He pump-faked once, then twice, and Duke’s Thomas Hill fell for the second one. Hill fouled Street. He swished both free-throw attempts to set an Iowa record for consecutive makes with 34.
It was the same pump fake that Davis had tried, unsuccessfully, to teach him in practice several years before. The same pump fake that teammate Paul Lusk stepped in and taught his buddy in a matter of minutes.
“It was nice to break the record here at Duke in front of the Cameron Crazies, who were going nuts,” Street said.
Jim Street is still amazed that his nephew made those free throws. Not because of the pressure of the moment, but because of the atmosphere. Students behind the basket did their best to distract Street, both with their vocal chords and the waving of arms.
“They must have known about the record, or seen something on TV about it,” Jim said. “They were going crazy. I don’t know how anybody could have shot into that backboard, with the group that was back there. It was really fun to watch.”
In a postgame interview with Jerry Strom for the Hawkeye Radio Network, Street said he knew about the record as he stepped to the free-throw line.
“I was thinking about them a little bit, but I was thinking more about getting two points for the team and trying to get the win,” he said.
Mike and Patty Street saw their son break the record from their living room.
“When he hit those free throws, we were going nuts,” Patty said.
(Longtime former Iowa athletic trainer) John Streif tried to give Street some perspective on what he had just accomplished.
“I remember going up to him in the locker room and saying, ‘Chris, this is amazing, you can tell your kids and grandkids about these Cameron Crazies going nuts and you breaking the Iowa record.’ It was amazing that he could do it in that setting. It’s something that you just don’t forget. It was quite emotional.”
Two decades after the game, Krzyzewski was asked on the weekly Atlantic Coast Conference coaches teleconference what he remembered about Street in that game.
Krzyzewski called Street “one of my favorite players. He pointed their press. He just was all over the place. He played with the type of attitude that you would want to inject in every player that has ever played for you. He just was a warrior and a terrific player and a terrific kid.”
After the game, Krzyzewski said he shook Street’s hand and told him, “‘It’s an honor to play against you.’ He was a very special basketball player.”
Street was the only Iowa player to come out and talk with the media after the game, a moment that provided an opportunity that Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Mike Hlas wishes he would have taken advantage of.
“I thought about writing that, or at least making note of it,” said Hlas, who left it out of his column. “I could have kicked myself. To me, that typified him. They lost, they were disappointed, and he faced the music. And that sticks with us (journalists) as much as other things. That might have endeared him to me more than anything, the fact that he came out and talked. I wish I had written that, and had it on the record.”
Hlas always appreciated Street’s perspective, and the fact that he spoke the unvarnished truth in victory and defeat.
“He was smart as hell,” Hlas said.
When the game was over, Street called it “the best crowd I’ve ever faced in my career.”
He’d relished the chants, the jabs, the verbal sparring. He was in his element.
“It was the craziest basketball environment we had played in, and he had played so well,” said Kenyon Murray, a freshman forward for Iowa in that game.
In retrospect, that day at Cameron Indoor Stadium seemed a fitting end to a blossoming career.
“Maybe it’s appropriate that his last college game was at Duke, kind of the mecca of college basketball,” Wade Lookingbill, Street's teammate, said.
After the game, Ahlers and Sallee went out with Street and Lookingbill.
“Chris was actually the only one who wasn’t 21 (years old) yet, and they were pretty strict, so we actually couldn’t get in any restaurant or bar at that time of night,” Ahlers said. “So we actually wandered around to some fraternity parties, stuff like that. When we were out on the campus, people just loved him. They loved the way he played. It was like he was a superstar, walking into their frat house. He might as well have been Christian Laettner, the way they were all over him.”
Lookingbill was Street’s roommate on the road. He, too, remembers the adulation Street received during their night on the town.
“It was pretty cool just to be with Chris at that time because they just respected how he played,” Lookingbill said. “He was a great player. If you go back and watch that Duke game, he was the best player on the floor. Now, he wasn’t better than Grant Hill. But in that game he was the best player on the floor. That was our last night together, having fun.”
Ahlers and Sallee went back to Iowa’s team hotel with Street and Lookingbill, and then parted ways.
“It was just nice to have that last weekend together where we could spend some time together,” Ahlers said.
His high school teammate was now a budding Big Ten star. And he hadn’t changed a bit.
“There are a lot of other graduates of Indianola and Iowa who would say the same thing,” Ahlers said. “Chris touched a lot of lives. I just happened to be one of those people that can say Chris was a friend rather than just a Hawkeye basketball player. He did a lot for me as far as being a role model, someone who would look after you and take care of you. He was an idol of mine on the basketball floor as well. It’s pretty cool to be able to say that.”
The Iowa team stayed in Durham the night of the game and returned Sunday. When Street and Lookingbill walked into the hotel lobby Sunday morning, they saw Doug Collins talking with Close. Doug played and coached in the NBA, and has also been a highly respected analyst on NBA telecasts.
Collins’ son, Chris, had selected the Blue Devils over Iowa as a senior at Glenbard North High School in suburban Chicago. Close had been Collins’ chief recruiter.
When Chris Collins, now the head coach at Northwestern, made his official campus visit to Iowa, he was joined by his dad and mom, Kathy, a Cedar Rapids native. Street was Chris Collins’ player host.
“I spent the whole weekend with him,” Collins said. “I remember how much he loved that place and the state. Everywhere he went, people just gravitated towards him. He was friendly to everyone. He had such a great personality.”
Street was present when the Collins family spent 90 minutes in Davis’s office during their visit.
“Chris (Street) just talked about being a basketball player and what it’s like to be at Iowa,” Close recalled. “And Doug, he’s been around. He can read people. And he was just overwhelmed with how strong he felt about the program. And it came without any prompting from us. It was just right from the heart.”
Every recruiting visit usually includes a few bells and whistles. In this case, Collins was shown an Iowa uniform with his name on the back.
“I remember how passionate (Street) was about what it meant to him to be able to wear that uniform, be part of the program, and how much people in the state loved the Hawkeyes and how it was such a family environment,” Chris said. “He was the leader of that team.”
Street’s sales job was effective. But in the end, Krzyzewski came in with a late scholarship offer that Collins accepted.
“There was a great chance I would have ended up at Iowa (if not for the Duke offer),” said Collins, who played 6 minutes off the bench in the Blue Devils’ 1993 victory over the Hawkeyes. “And a big reason for that was how I felt and how comfortable I was around the guys. Especially Chris. Because he was the one who made me feel that way when I visited.”
Jim Zabel, the former play-by-play announcer for the Hawkeyes, sat by Davis and Street on the flight home from Duke. They talked for a good share of the time.
“Chris said, ‘Coach, I hope we get Duke again in the NCAA Regionals,’ ” Zabel recalled Street telling Davis. “I’ll set a pick on Bobby Hurley that he’ll never forget.”
Bob Brooks, the iconic Cedar Rapids sportscaster, was one of those who had a special relationship with Street as well. The two would often sit together on the team plane.
“We’d talk about whatever came up,” Brooks said just months before he died in June of 2016. “We might talk about world events. We might talk about other teams, strategy, what happened in the game. He was an introspective guy. He had many interests.”
Standing in the lobby of the team hotel the morning after the Duke game as they waited for the bus to take them to the Raleigh-Durham Airport, Brooks and Street had a conversation.
“I told Chris how high I thought he would go in the draft, and what a future I thought he would have as a pro,” Brooks said. “And then there was no future.”
Patty left her son a message on the answering machine of his Market Street apartment on the day after the Duke game. She congratulated him on setting the free-throw record.
The Streets were operating a Coastal Mart in Indianola at the time. Chris called the store to talk to his mom on Monday, but she wasn’t there yet. The following morning, Jan. 19, 1993, Chris called the store again and got his dad.
“He wanted to make sure I had gotten the turkey (hunting) application sent in,” Mike said. “I said, ‘Do you want to talk to your mom?’ He said, ‘I need to get going. Tell Mom hi. I’ll see you after the game (against Northwestern on Wednesday). And make sure you get the turkey application sent in.’”
Later that day, between classes and the start of practice, Chris stopped at a downtown Iowa City jewelry store to pick up a gift his parents had bought him for his 21st birthday. It was a gold pendant. No. 40.
Reprinted with permission.