Georges Niang and Charlie Cutler are both Cyclones but I’m pretty sure they never met. But it wouldn’t have been impossible - both were students at Iowa State during 2013, and both were widely known on campus. Georges because he played a little basketball. Charlie because, well, everyone seemed to know Charlie.
I don’t know Georges Niang personally, but like every Cyclone fan, I'd like to think I do. I was in Hilton for Georges’ senior night speech and the Sprint Center to see him grudgingly leave the floor to a standing ovation after dropping 31 in a loss to Oklahoma. I watched as he amazed us twice a week from November thru March for four years.
I do know Charlie; he’s been a friend of our family since he and our son were in high school together. Watched him grow from a gangly kid into a handsome young man. High school swim meets and dances, tailgates and dad's weekends at Iowa State. Charlie Cutler passed away last week at age 26, after a 3 year fight with lymphoma. We learned he had left us as ISU tipped off against Oklahoma.
As we drove home from the Big 12 tourney, I found myself thinking about Georges and Charlie and their similarities. I’m writing this to say goodbye and thank you to both of them.
Georges has been everything a fan hopes for in a college athlete - especially a Cyclone fan. He chose ISU over more well-known programs, stayed 4 years, embraced the school and his role as one of its ambassadors, and blew a kiss to the Iowa student section.
And won. A lot.
Georges was outspoken; not a Bull Durham "just playin’ em one day at a time," sound bite. Georges is what many of us like to think we would have been like as a college student if we had been 6’8" and a gifted athlete. He is what most moms and dads hope their sons or daughters become – an articulate, motivated leader who is immensely personable and well liked. He has made his teammates better players.
Charlie was an athlete too but an eclectic one; swimmer, biker, rock climber, snow boarder, waterman. Hunter and fisherman. Charlie was an architect – artist and designer. Charlie was a party starter, trip planner, water tower climber, a kind and gentle young man. A good friend. Charlie was a fighter – he attacked his cancer with courage, and mystified his friends and family with his unwavering good spirits and hope. To get a feel for this, check out this link to Charlie receiving Above & Beyond Cancer’s annual award last year.
Charlie was the person that you wished you had been like as a student and young adult, and the friend that you hope your son or daughter are lucky enough to have in their lives. He made his friends better people.
Georges will be remembered by Cyclone fans for as long as ISU plays basketball. His jersey will be retired in Hilton as soon as it’s possible. Georges said he "always has a home at Iowa State," and we believe him.
Charlie will be remembered by all who ever saw his infectious smile, which was everyone he met. By those who ever biked with him; his memorial will fund a Des Moines area bike trail in his name. He’ll be remembered as his family sits down to eat at a massive wooden and steel table he made for his parents and will be passed down for decades.
Every time I see a Band-Aid, I will think about "Nianging" in the Power and Light District in Kansas City. Every time I see a bottle of Fireball, I’ll think of Charlie on RAGBRAI.
I think Georges and Charlie will be remembered in another way. I don’t have the data to prove this, but am fairly sure that George (probably without the "s") has experienced a resurgence as a name for boys born in Iowa. I’m very certain that there will be several kids born in the next few years with ties to Iowa who are given Charles as a first or middle name.
This Thursday, thousands of Cyclone faithful nationwide will watch as Georges and his teammates play in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After his run in the tourney concludes, Georges will undoubtedly play professionally - maybe coach. His life is not set, but the path seems clear at least to an outsider.
Today, hundreds, maybe over a thousand of Charlie’s friends and family from all over the US will meet in West Des Moines to celebrate his life. His life on earth has ended, but his memory and influence will sustain and entertain a lot of people for a very long time.
Georges helped me love my Cyclones again, and I thank him for that.
Charlie was a good friend to my son and an inspiration to me. Thanks Charlie, we love you.
- From a friend of Charlie