It’s become so cliché to write that an athlete “works hard” or is “high energy” that we hardly blink anymore when someone earns that label.
“Hard worker” and “high energy,” therefore, have lost much of their meaning—in a sports context. They’re throw-away words, the tools of a lazy sportswriter sometimes used to explain how athletes perceived to be less athletic than their peers nonetheless find success.
For so many, those words mean so little. Yet for Chris Street, the Hawkeye men’s basketball player who died 25 years ago during his junior season, they don’t go far enough. A current of energy ran through Street’s body, powering a Big Ten force coached at that time by Tom Davis and anchored by Acie Earl.
The Iowa athletic department again honored Street and his family on Saturday during halftime of the Hawkeyes’ 87-64 loss to third-ranked Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was a touching ceremony emceed by retired-ish sportswriter Rick Brown, whose new book on Street was recently released.
Whatever you’ve heard or read about Street’s effort and energy, remember this: It’s all true. In the heavily clichéd world of sports media, it’s smart to be skeptical and easy to cynical, but when it comes to Street, don’t be. He really was everything they say he was.
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I was a University of Iowa freshman when Street died. News of his death sliced through campus that night in January 1993. Every television on the fifth floor of Rienow Hall was tuned to ESPN to hear Dick Vitale try to put into words what he and so many others were thinking.
Wait, Chris Street was … dead?
It felt impossible. Street and Val Barnes were the heart of that 1992-93 Iowa squad. Earl was the muscle. But what made Street so special wasn’t that he used “hard work” to offset a lack of talent, but that he worked hard to enhance an NBA skillset. He was the prototypical small forward of late-20th century NBA. Think Cedric Ceballos or Dan Majerle, talents in the open court with the potential to hit long-range shots.
There’s nothing I can write about Street that Rick Brown hasn’t already done 10 times more eloquently. His narration of that above video – shown at halftime Saturday at Carver – spoke the truth.
“[Street] wore his heart on his sleeve, playing every game like it might be his last,” Brown said. “A spirit and a smile lived inside that No. 40 jersey.”
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Tears flowed Saturday in Carver. Tom Davis cried. Street’s old teammates cried. Following a ceremony that included tributes from old coaches and even Purdue coach Matt Painter – Street’s one-time teammate on a Big Ten traveling all-star squad – fans too wiped tears from their eyes.
Iowa’s current basketball season is one to forget, but Saturday was a day to remember. Keeping Street’s name alive is one of the UI athletic department’s most important responsibilities. Street deserves to be remembered. His game should be emulated. His heart will beat forever through this basketball program.
* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.