Sinking 34 consecutive free throws takes calm nerves, a keen eye and a steady hand – skills built through hours of practice. Missing the 35th on purpose to honor the memory of another takes character built through a lifetime. With a father who played quarterback at Iowa, three older brothers who had played Division I basketball and as Iowa’s Mr. Basketball of 2016, Jordan Bohannon was keenly aware of Chris Street’s legacy. Now, their legacies are one.
Chris was the heart and soul of the 1993 Iowa Hawkeyes, who eventually earned a No. 4 seed in the Southeast Regional of the NCAA Tournament. He symbolized everything everyone wanted from an Iowa athlete. He was proud, tough and a tenacious defender. In January of 1993, Chris broke the school record when he hit his 34th consecutive free throw. Not bad for a power forward. He never got the chance to extend it. The night before Iowa’s next game, Chris was killed in a car accident.
“Anyone in this state can tell you where they were when they heard Chris Street was killed,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said. Chris’ father, Mike, thinks that’s because fans related to Chris’ passion and enthusiasm. “He was proud to wear the uniform,” Mike said. “He was always trying to make a play, constantly seeing every play as a challenge.” Chris’ mom, Patty, believes that Chris the human being struck an even deeper chord. “Most important was being the kind person who smiles at you, takes time to listen, is respectful, polite,” she said. “We’ve heard so many stories about Chris like that. That’s what keeps him alive.”
Chris’ legacy was inescapable for Jordan this past season, as he hit free throw after free throw. Mike and Patty were aware of it, too, and encouraged Jordan to “get after it.” But surpassing a legend made Jordan uncomfortable because Chris never got the chance to extend his own streak. “I talked to my brother and we agreed: it wasn’t my record to have,” Jordan said. “I knew I wanted to miss, but wondered, ‘what if it’s a close game or a tie game with a minute left?’ He said it would all work out and God has a plan.”
The plan unfolded in February with 2:15 left versus Northwestern and Iowa holding a 73-65 lead. “I looked up at my brother,” Jordan said. “He gave me a nod.” Jordan aimed short, and the shot bounced off the front rim. Northwestern got the rebound, but Iowa recovered the ball following a turnover and held on for a victory. “It couldn’t have worked out better,” Jordan said, noting that the turnover resulted from “a Chris Street hustle play. That was probably Chris reaching down and helping us out.”
As usual, Patty and Mike were at the game, and Coach McCaffrey told them that Jordan had missed on purpose. Through hugs and tears, Mike told Jordan that next time he made 34 in a row, he shouldn’t miss. “Jordan missing the free throw on purpose caught me off-guard,” Mike said. “It took me awhile, to get home after the game, to digest what it really meant and the respect he showed Chris.”
In the ensuing months, as the nation digested and embraced the story, Jordan and the Streets came to realize that you didn’t need to know Iowa basketball or Chris to appreciate this gesture of respect. “The innocence and selflessness of Jordan’s action really touches people,” Mike said. “He didn’t do it for himself but for someone else. Jordan didn’t think this would turn into a big thing, but I think we all want to grab a hold of some good news and good things that athletes do.” Because Jordan missed just two free throws in conference play last season, he could face the same dilemma this season. Jordan hopes he gets there, “but I know that record deserves to be held in his name, and it should be forever.” And, as Patty said, “How better than for them to be a part of each other?”