It was a cold Saturday afternoon in January 1993 and, as always, Cameron Indoor Stadium was packed. Duke was the two-time defending national champion, ranked third in the country with an 11-1 record. The opponent was Iowa, which was 12-2 and ranked 13th.
The game was filled with intensity for 40 minutes. Physical, but not dirty. Lots of yelling: coaches at officials; players at players; fans — naturally — at anyone in an Iowa uniform.
A lot of the talk was between Bobby Hurley, Duke’s star point guard, and Chris Street, a 6-foot-8 inch Iowa forward who played the point on defense when Iowa pressed. Which was always. That meant he and Hurley were often nose-to-nose.
There was no back-down in the street kid from Jersey City or in the farm boy from Indianola, Iowa.
At one point, when Hurley was inbounding from sidecourt, Street was right up in his face. Hurley asked the official to move Street back.
“Hey, Bobby,” Street said. “Why don’t you just shut up and play.”
Hurley actually laughed. He loved the confrontation. “He was the kind of guy you hated to play against,” Hurley said later. “But exactly the kind of guy you wanted to play with.”
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, took the thought a step further. “In the military, he was the kind of guy you’d want to lead you into battle,” he said Friday. “He was the leader you followed not just because of courage but because of intelligence. I’ll bet every coach he ever faced would say the same thing: I’d have loved to have coached him.”
Duke won the game, 65-56 — late free throws making that score deceiving. With a few seconds left, Hurley went to the foul line. Behind him, he heard Street’s voice.
“Hey, Bobby,” Street said.
Expecting one last parting shot, he turned his head. “Good game, man, no hard feelings,” Street said softly. He tapped Hurley on the back and walked away.
Seconds later, when the teams lined up to shake hands, Krzyzewski grabbed Street by the shoulders and said, “It was an honor to play against you.”
Three nights later, I was on I-95 South, en route home from a game in Philadelphia, when I heard that Street had been killed in a car accident in Iowa City. I was so stunned I had to pull over to the side of the road and take deep breaths. My hands were shaking too much to drive.
“He had that kind of affect on people,” Tom Davis, Street’s coach at Iowa, said by phone on Friday, the 25th anniversary of Street’s death. “He was smart, he was decisive and he was a natural leader.”
Davis paused. “Honestly, I still have trouble talking about him. I still get emotional.”
On Saturday, when Iowa hosts third-ranked Purdue, the school will commemorate the anniversary with the “Chris Street Forever 40 Memorial Game.” A No. 40 Iowa uniform will be hung over an empty chair on the Iowa bench. Davis, who coached the Hawkeyes from 1986 until 1999 and attended the game, wasn’t the only person struggling with his emotions.
This week also marked the publication of “Emotion in Motion: The Life and Legacy of Chris Street,” a book written by former Des Moines Register columnist Rick Brown on Street’s brief but remarkable life. It will almost certainly end up in just about every household in Iowa.
“I’ll say ‘good game,’ or, ‘you played great,’ to guys often,” Krzyzewski said. “But no, not that. Chris was just different. That’s why I said it.”
I wrote that day about the intensity of the game; about the day-long battle between Street and Hurley and about Street’s gesture in those last seconds.
Street was averaging 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game when he died. On that afternoon at Duke, he had 14 and 9. Two of the points came on free throws in the first half, giving him 34 in a row, a program record.
Twenty-five years after his death, Street remains an iconic figure in Iowa. For years, a player who grew up in Iowa was designated to wear No. 40 in Street’s honor — at Iowa State, Iowa’s archrival. The first player to wear that number was Fred Hoiberg.
Davis remembers seeing Street play at an Iowa summer camp before Street’s junior year in high school. He already knew the name and knew Iowa State was recruiting him hard. After watching him for a couple of days, Davis was sold.
“I asked him to come up to my office with his mom and dad before they left,” he said. “I told them we wanted to offer him a scholarship, that at this point everything was verbal and I knew it was early but I wanted him to know we were ready to make a commitment to him.”
Davis paused. “I remember his dad shaking his head no because it was so early. I understood. But I told them the commitment from us was there, regardless. We shook hands all around and they walked out. As his parents were walking out, Chris came back, poked his head in the door and said, ‘Coach, I’ll call you tonight.’ ”
Davis can’t remember if Street called that night or the next morning but he did call and he did commit. “Great players and great leaders are decisive,” Davis said. “He’d decided. He knew what he wanted and that was that.”
Street improved each season at Iowa and was the leader of a team that believed it was headed for big things before the night of Jan. 19th. Davis remembers sitting with Street on the flight home from North Carolina. Iowa had lost to Duke in the NCAA tournament the two previous seasons.
“He said, ‘Coach, I hope we get ’em again in March,’” Davis said. “Then he smiled and said, ‘I’ll set a screen on Bobby Hurley he’ll never forget.’ ”
That Tuesday, Street and his girlfriend, Kimberly Vinton had eaten at the Highlander Supper Club, about three miles from the Iowa campus. Players ate at the Highlander the night before games at their leisure, especially since some had night classes.
Street had a night class and he and Kimberly — who were planning to tell their families of their plans to get married on Valentine’s Day — were making a left turn in Chris’s 1988 Chrysler LeBaron when they collided with a snowplow. Chris was killed instantly. Kimberly survived.
Twenty-five years later, Street’s memory lives on in Iowa. There is a scholarship in his name and his number hangs from the rafters of Carver-Hawkeye Arena — the last number retired by Iowa. The most coveted team award at Iowa each season is the Chris Street Award, given to the player who most embodies Street’s spirit, his enthusiasm and his drive.
“He would have played in the NBA,” Davis said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. He had the energy, the motor, the intensity — and he could shoot. He could guard Bobby Hurley or he could guard Christian Laettner. He was that versatile.”
Street had told friends if the NBA happened, that was fine. If not, he was planning to go to business school. He was ready to take on the next phase of life, along with Kimberly, regardless.
And then, three days after he had imprinted himself into the memory of everyone who watched Iowa play Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium on that Saturday, he was gone.
But not forgotten.