Bigger than basketball: Iowa sophomore refuses to break a sentimental record


Over the weekend Zac and I watched "The Pride of the Yankees," a 1942 film about the life of famed New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig. 

One of the most emotional scenes in the film is when Gehrig, who is just beginning to  battle the disease that now bears his name, asks his manager to take him out of the lineup.

The move brought to an end his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played.

Cal Ripken Jr. now holds the record for most consecutive games played — 2,632.

Most baseball fans (my husband included) say no player will ever get close to that record. 

Of course, the fans of Gehrig's era thought the same thing.

When a record falls, the player who breaks it can expect to be deemed an unworthy successor.

As Roger Maris closed in on Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961, baseball commissioner Ford Frick announced that it wouldn't count unless he did it in 154 games. (The season had expanded from 154 games to 162 games since Ruth's playing days.)

Frick's stance cast a cloud of illegitimacy over the record that lasted until 1991 when a new commissioner said that Maris was the true home run king. 

Maris' record was infamously broken by Mark McGwire in 1998, and Barry Bonds surpassed McGwire in 2001. In the post-steroid era, those claims to the title are now even more controversial than Maris'.

However, records are based on facts, not feelings. If a player puts up better numbers than the guy who came before him, then the record and the recognition that goes with it are passed on to him. 

Jordan Bohannon, a point guard for the University of Iowa, knew that on Feb 25 as he stood at the free throw line in a game against Northwestern.

Bohannon had made 35 consecutive successful free throws. One more would give him a school record.    

Chris Street had held the record since Jan. 16, 1993. He was killed in a car accident three days after setting the new school record of 34 consecutive free throws.

"Chris was a tenacious player. I always referred to him as the glue to the team. I thought he had a tremendous career ahead of him," Rudy Washington, a former Iowa assistant who recruited Street, told the Associated Press after his death.

Street's number was quickly retired by Iowa's basketball team. His legacy lives on through the Chris Street Award, which is given each year "to a Hawkeye player, or players, who best exemplify the spirit, enthusiasm and intensity of Chris Street."

Street's parents, Mike and Patty, were in the arena as Bohannon closed in on the record.

They were as shocked as everyone in the arena except Bohannon himself and his family when he intentionally missed the free throw attempt.

The Des Moines Register reported that Street's parents embraced Bohannon after the game ended. 

"What a good kid. He's so kind," said Patty Street, who was moved to tears.

Mike Street was also touched, though he had already told anyone who asked that he would be proud for his son's record to be broken by a hard-working player like Bohannon.

"Christopher would want him to do the best he could do and stay after it. But that was Jordan's decision, and if that's what he wanted to do, then we appreciate it. We certainly in the future want him to get another shot at it," Mike Street said.

Bohannon's missed free throw was covered by national media outlets such as Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post.

If he had broken the record, it's likely that only Iowa's sports fans would have taken note.

Because he had chosen second place, everyone wanted to know why.

"Obviously, that's not my record to have," Bohannon said after the game.

Bohannon had spent weeks allowing various scenarios to play out in his mind. His worst fear was that the big moment would come when the game was on the line. Was the tribute appropriate if it came at the expense of his team?

Iowa was holding on to an eight-point lead when Bohannon was fouled with a little over two minutes left in the game. 

There was certainly enough time left for Northwestern to stage a comeback.

Bohannon held firm to the belief that one good turn deserves another.

"We had an agreement that God wasn't going to let that happen. You saw that tonight. I missed it. We got the ball right back. I don't know if it was really destined to happen, but it worked out like it should have," Bohannon told the Des Moines Register.

Iowa won the game 77-70, but one missed point was a victory for sportsmanship and human decency.