Today’s Flashback Friday story originally published on: September 12, 2018
In January 1993, Christopher Street – a junior at the University of Iowa and potential NBA player – was struck and killed by a snowplow. The entire state of Iowa was left in mourning.
Chris Street was one of those special players who could lift the performance of an entire basketball team without scoring a point. Bob Knight adored him. According to Iowa State head coach Johnny Orr, Street was “the kind of person you wanted on your team and didn’t like to play against because he never quit.”
One of the most popular players in Iowa basketball history, Street embodied everything it meant to be a Hawkeye. “To me, I think Chris represented the intensity of life, the openness of the Midwest and the state of Iowa,” said former Iowa coach Tom Davis, who recruited Street to Iowa City. “He was open, caring, honest, loving and lived life to the fullest every day.”
Street’s hustle and enthusiasm were infectious. Not just another basketball player, Hawkeye fans admired his talent, respected his work ethic and appreciated his home-grown roots and loyalty. His final game was at Duke January 16, 1993 – a cold Saturday afternoon in Durham. Duke was the two-time defending national champion and ranked third in the nation. Iowa was 12-2 and ranked 13th. Despite Street’s 14 points and eight rebounds, Duke won, 65-56. In the second half, the rugged forward extended his school record of consecutive free throws made to 34. While going through the handshake line after the game, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski grabbed Street by the shoulders and said, “It was an honor to play against you.”
“In the military, he was the kind of guy you’d want to lead you into battle,” explained Coach K, a West Point grad who knows something about leadership. “He was the leader you followed not just because of his courage but because of intelligence. I’d had loved to have coached him.” Street had that kind of effect on people. “He was smart, he was decisive and he was a natural leader,” observed Davis.
Born in Humeston, Iowa, on Groundhog Day in 1972, Christopher Michael Street was the eldest of three children born to a gas station owner. The family moved to Indianola – about 20 miles south of Des Moines – after Street’s freshman year of high school so he could gain more exposure and play against better competition. A three-sport standout at Indianola High School, Street was an all-state quarterback and all-conference pitcher. He was also named First Team All-State in basketball his junior and senior seasons.
Street committed to Iowa as a high school junior, a full 15 months before the earliest signing date. The 6’8”, 220-pound forward arrived in Iowa City in 1990, and appeared in 28 games as a freshman. In his sophomore season, Street averaged over ten points per game and finished third in the Big Ten in rebounding. He was averaging 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game when he died 15 games into his junior year.
On January 19, 1993, following a team dinner at the Highlander Inn just outside Iowa City, Street was killed instantly when his 1988 Chrysler LeBaron was broadsided by a snowplow. He was on his way to a Tuesday night class with his high school sweetheart, Kimberly Vinton. Two weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Chris and Kim were going to tell their families on Valentine’s Day of their plan to get married. Kimberly was injured, but survived the crash.
The tragedy stunned the entire state and forever changed the lives of those that knew Chris. The following night’s game against Northwestern was postponed. The Iowa House of Representatives honored the fallen Hawkeye with a moment of silence. In the aftermath of the accident, Street’s No. 40 was retired by the school. No other number has been retired since.
Iowa’s first home game following Street’s death came against Michigan. The fifth-ranked Wolverines were led by the Fab Five and would play in the NCAA title game later that year. In one of the most electrifying nights in the 30-year history of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa played like an entire team of Chris Streets and shocked Michigan, 88-80.
In a game against arch-rival Iowa State in December 1992, Street helped hold the Cyclones’ best player, guard Fred Hoiberg, to a single point. Five weeks later, Street was dead. After his death, Iowa State created a tradition of designating one player to wear No. 40 – Street’s jersey number — in honor of their fallen rival. In 1993, Hoiberg – who is currently head coach of the Chicago Bulls and had been Chris’ close friend and AAU teammate – became the first player to wear the No. 40 jersey for Iowa State.
Chris Street was beloved in Iowa. He left his imprint throughout the state. There’s a Chris Street Foundation, and Indianola High School plays home games in the Chris Street Gymnasium. The basketball courts in Indianola’s Moats Park are named after Chris, as is a city park in his native Humeston. The Iowa Basketball Coaches Association presents the Chris Street Memorial Scholarship each year to a graduating senior boy or girl who served their high school basketball team in some capacity other than as a player.
At the end of each season, the Chris Street Award is given to the Iowa Hawkeye player who best exemplifies the spirit, enthusiasm and intensity of Chris Street. “We want to remember everything Chris represented,” said Davis. “He was one of the greatest Hawkeyes of all time.” Chris Street’s legacy endures at Iowa a quarter-century later. This past January, the school marked the 25th anniversary of Street’s passing with a moving tribute during their game against Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Chris Street Forever 40 Memorial Game included Iowa players warming up in shirts honoring Chris, and his retired No. 40 jersey hung over an empty chair on the Iowa bench. Former Chris Street Award winners were in attendance, as were Tom Davis and former Hawkeye teammates. The game’s ball boys were the 8-year-old sons of Street’s two younger sisters.
On February 25, 2018, Iowa Hawkeye guard Jordan Bohannon purposely missed a free throw against Northwestern that would have broken Street’s school record for consecutive free throws made. After the game, Bohannon, who tied Street’s mark at 34, said, “That’s not my record to have.” That record deserves to stay in his name. In April, Jordan Bohannon was named recipient of the 2018 Chris Street Award.
Christopher Street is buried in Indianola, about a two-hour drive from Iowa City and home of the National Balloon Museum. He was laid to rest in his gold Iowa uniform — warm-up jacket and all — beneath a monument that says, Son, Brother, Grandson, Friend, Cousin, Nephew, Hero.