IOWA CITY, Ia. — When the family of late Iowa basketball player Chris Street approached Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, emotions began to tangle like a jumbled mess of computer cords.
Unraveling all those feelings — wound tightly around the loss of a son and brother 20 years ago that rocked the state — required an assist beyond the box score.
On the night Iowa tripped league-leading Wisconsin 70-66, the program remembered a youthful bundle of energy who defined hustle, effort and character while wrapped head to toe in black and gold.
As the family wrestled to manage the moment, something waited in the wings to ease frayed nerves and moistened tear ducts.
“We came into the arena, running late, and dad did a little spin move,” said Betsy Stursma, who was 12 when an accident involving a car and snowplow stole her brother just minutes from the arena where he converted floor burns into Hawkeye merit badges.
“He hit a tree branch and we laughed because it settled us down a little bit. Everyone was like, ‘Chris did that just to calm us down.’ ”
Iowa rode the night’s emotion like a seasoned surfer latching onto a choice wave off a rock-lined Hawaiian coast, jumping in front of the Badgers 30-10 in the first half.
When the Hawkeyes slowed a Wisconsin run with Eric May’s open-court dunk to make it 52-37 with just more than eight minutes left, Street’s father, Mike, jumped to his feet with both arms pumping toward the heavens.
In a few, brief moments Saturday, the game produced some of the chills and goose bumps of 1993, when Iowa returned home for the first time since Street’s death and willed itself over No. 5 Michigan’s Fab Five, 88-80.
Even though the bulk of Iowa’s current players and students were yet to be born when Street played — memories remain vivid for so many others.
“I became the 12-year-old who was going on 20,” Stursma said of her reaction to the loss of an iconic sibling all those years ago. “I was kind of the caretaker for the family as everyone was dealing with all of it. I had my letdown later.
“It probably shaped my life, though. I could either use Christopher’s death as an excuse, or I could emulate what he stood for.”
Those types of reminders seemed to be everywhere Saturday, revealed in stories book-ended by handshakes and backslaps.
Those who knew Street best explained how a hard-working kid from Indianola left impressions infinitely more valuable than wins and losses. Hustle, effort and character resonate an octave or two higher in a state like Iowa, where those qualities seem woven into the countryside.
Marilyn Hagan has worked at Carver-Hawkeye as a member of building security since it opened, a familiar face to players and coaches crossing more than a generation.
Hagan, sitting at her post under a plaque that honors Street, still cherishes the hugs and conversations with one of her favorite players.
“If there were more people like that, it would be a wonderful world,” Hagan said. “You just wonder why someone like that had to go so soon.”
As a state still reeled, that aging win over Michigan provided a small bit of salve for battered psyches and wounded hearts, Hagan said. As the years have passed, Street’s importance in a range of ways has become more precisely recalled, rather than blurred.
Former Iowa player Jess Settles, another Iowan who grew up with Herkys in his eyes, took over Street’s spot in the lineup a season after his death.
Settles said Street opened a door he felt obligated to rush through.
“He was an Iowa kid who kind of broke some of the stigmas that Iowa kids couldn’t play at this high level and play well,” Settles said. “So we couldn’t do anything but just play hard for him.”
In the tunnel just a few steps off the arena court, Wade Lookingbill smiled at a night seemingly built for his former teammate.
“You could see and feel the emotion. This is Chris’ type of game,” Lookingbill said at halftime. “He would have had about nine points and six rebounds by now, scooping up those Wisconsin misses.”
Outside the Badgers’ locker room after the game, assistant coach Gary Close compared Iowa’s grit out of the gate and down the stretch to Street, the player he once coached at Iowa.
“They played a lot like he played — with a lot of abandon and enthusiasm,” he said.
Everything that was Chris Street, Close said — the effort, the way he treated people, all of it — became infectious and impacted those around him, then and now.
“He made the world better,” Close said.
On Saturday, he also made a team a little better. He made an arena a little louder.
There was Street, doing it again.
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball