I am probably not the person to write this piece. I was born in 1984, am 29 years old and only have a few childhood memories of watching Johnny Orr patrol the sidelines in Hilton Coliseum. I never had a beer with Johnny or had the chance to watch him hold court on the golf course and really don't have any great anecdotes to share. To me, Johnny Orr was a sports legend that just simply came before my time.
Over the years, I came to appreciate Johnny more and more, though, as I learned about the coach off the court. I grew up in an Iowa State household and I knew Johnny as the father of Hilton Magic, but I had no idea how unique he was away from basketball. A lot of great writers wrote fitting tributes to Johnny on Tuesday and I'll link those outstanding pieces below, but I can't help but laugh when I see how the narrative of remembering Orr's life has shifted away from the game.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, it's probably because you enjoy the lighter side of sports. You live and breath Iowa State athletics as much, if not more than anyone else and while you love watching Iowa State compete, you also love the trash talk, the drinking and the camaraderie that come with following college sports. Johnny Orr was our type of guy. Basketball became his life's work, but being around people and making us smile was his passion.
After I heard the news of Orr's passing, I spent a good amount of time reading all of the great Johnny Orr stories and anecdotes that Iowa State fans had to share. Like many of you, I had heard most of these stories, or at least a version of them once or twice over the years, but each and every one of them brought a smile to my face. Almost urban legend in nature, the facts don't necessarily matter, but the spirit of who Johnny Orr was endures in our memories because he let us in. He pulled back the curtain and let us access more than a basketball coach.
Johnny swore and drank and was never politically correct. He was a throwback to an era before blogs and Twitter and Sportscenter. Johnny was meant for his time and I'm glad he wasn't neutered by the current climate of sports consumerism.
There are many reasons that we love Johnny Orr, but we love him most because he chose us. He chose Ames, Iowa, he chose Hilton Coliseum and he chose to become an Iowan. He had his doubts early on, but there was no faking it with Johnny. He loved Iowa State just as much as we loved him.
I had the opportunity to attend the Michigan game in November. Immediately after, I told my wife that being there for that game in that atmosphere was special and would likely go down as one of my favorite Iowa State basketball games of all time. I didn't know at the time that I was paying my last respects to Johnny Orr, but as it turned out, all of Cyclone nation did just that on that day.
And what better symbolism than having Fred Hoiberg, Johnny's prodigy, follow his mentor out onto the court that day? I thought Eric Heft said it best prior to the Northern Illinois game on Tuesday night, that it represented a true passing of the torch. Iowa State had four coaches between Orr and Hoiberg, but none of them were "The Mayor".
Johnny Orr will always be the Father of Hilton Magic, but every father needs an heir. On Sunday, November 17th, Johnny came out for one last fist pump and to revel in the raucous Hilton environment, but also to let us all know that his heir was in place. Hilton Magic is in the right hands.
We all will miss you, Johnny, and we want to thank you for being our coach, our legend and above all else, our friend. On Tuesday, Iowa State lost its greatest coach, but we will never lose the memory of a man that touched us all and made us proud to be Cyclones.
Johnny Orr links