The Case for Chris Street
For many Big Ten basketball observers in the early 1990's, the league had an amazing amount of talent. If you were a fan during this time, there were usually two things you either hated or loved, depending on your loyalties. For many, it was the hot-dogging of Michigan's Fab Five, and for others, it was Iowa's physical ball club. The focal point for opponents and fans often resided with Chris Street and his aggressive pursuit of rebounds, mastered with the rare ability to pick up the spirits of the Iowa faithful with a mere fist pump.
When people talk about Chris Street's basketball ability, you won’t hear about 40-point games or ridiculous stats. His real talents aren’t found in the quick glimpse of his player profile. To discover Street’s worth, you had to see him play. More than anything, his willingness to compete against anyone or do anything, from diving on the floor to providing a tough box out, endeared him with all of Iowa. No just the university – the entire state of Iowa.
If you were from Iowa, you liked Chris Street. It was that simple. But for the rest of the country, proof of his talent concedes with what he accomplished in his three years with the Iowa Hawkeye program. Street appeared on scout's radar following a solid freshman year. During that time he became a full time starter and ended the year among the Big Ten’s leaders in field goal percentage and rebounds. Despite playing in a conference that would produce 13 draft picks in the span of the two years (1993 & 1994) Street remained consistent and ever improving.
In his first 15 games as a junior, his improvement in perimeter shooting from mid-range and constant work ethic made him a threat to challenge Chris Webber, the Big Ten’s best rebounder. Everything looked promising for Street if he stayed one more season at Iowa, and by all accounts, he wasn't thinking the NBA Draft. Street’s path was further enhanced due to his teammate, Acie Earl, the centerpiece of Iowa's offense and a senior in his final season. This focal point of Iowa's offense would be handed down to Street.
Off the court long time girlfriend and high school sweetheart Kim Vinton planned to announce their engagement on Valentine's Day. Life was good and the future looked bright for Street.
On January 19, 1993, the life of Chris Street ended too soon for someone so loved by the community. Few teammates knew that, while enjoying their pre-game meal, it would be their last time interacting with Street. After eating, he and his girlfriend got into his car to head back to school, but while turning at an intersection, Street was violently hit by a snowplow. By some miracle, Vinton survived with a punctured lung and a separated shoulder. Unfortunately, Street was more than likely dead on impact. It was later determined that he was not wearing a seatbelt, yet it’s unclear if a seatbelt would have saved him in this tragic accident.
The news of Street's death hit the State of Iowa like a blizzard. Cold and uncompromising, the reality and emotion that poured through was quite unsettling, even for casual fans who did watch basketball. Women and children cried bitterly, and men quietly shed tears over the loss. Iowa didn't just loose a basketball player but a person – he was an irreplaceable brother.
So transcending was Street's death that the Iowa House of Representatives honored him with a moment of silence. Newspapers across the state ran three and four page specials on Street and flags flew half-staffed. Iowa canceled the next two games due to the intense grief by students and staff, and also provided grief counseling. As the news continued to spread throughout the nation, even heated rivals such as Iowa State University mourned with the rest of the Big Ten conference.
His funeral held over 2,500 mourners as heartbreaking memories were shared with the Street Family. Even in the end, Street's intense loyalty shinned as he was buried dressed in his gold Iowa uniform and his warm up jacket.
The time soon came for Iowa to play their first game without him. In front of Street's parents, Iowa beat Michigan State after being down by 17 points. Each basket and hard play by the Iowa team was a gesture towards the family that made the win more profound.
With Street’s parents and siblings present, the school later retired his jersey number. Some may question if his ability to be a first round pick was questionable, but not according to NBA’s chief scout, Marty Blake. Blake swore under oath that Street would have been a first round pick in the 1994 NBA draft. He made this statement after the Iowa County Court summoned Blake as part of a legal suit brought by Street’s parents. The suit claimed Johnson County’s snowplow was responsible for their son's death, but after jury deliberation, Street was found to be 100% responsible for the crash that claimed his life.