Today's sports news is filled with stories of talented athletes who couldn't stay out of trouble. Whether it's a basketball player accused of murdering his teammate, a football player accused of murdering his wife or a superstar accused of sexual assault…you can't escape it.
Once you get past that layer of reports, you see the highlights. A small forward makes his only shot of the game and he pounds his chest and barks about it all the way to the other end of the floor. He might even pull at his jersey, so you can see the tattoo on his chest. A running back gains four yards and quickly stands up to pound his chest and signal "first down" for everyone to see.
But, when you look really, REALLY closely, every once in a while you find that special athlete who works as hard as anyone, who hustles all the time, who NEVER taunts an opponent and who knows how to play the game. These are the guys I pull for.
Guys like Fred Hoiberg.
Hoiberg was in high school in Ames when I was in college, but I remember clearly all the reports about this freaky-good athlete in Central Iowa who could do it all. Once I saw him play as a freshman at ISU, it was obvious the reports were accurate.
Through his four-year career at Iowa State, "The Mayor" put together quite a list of accomplishments…
- 1,993 points (3rd on ISU's all-time list).
- 748 rebounds (6.0 per game).
- 84% free throw shooter in his career.
- 51% field goal shooter in his career.
- Played in 126 games for ISU.
- His #32 was retired in 1997.
- Third Team All-American in 1995.
- First Team Academic All-American in 1995.
- First Team All-Big 8 in 1995.
- Academic All-Big 8 in 1993, 1994 and 1995.
- 1992 Big 8 Conference Freshman of the Year.
- Only player in ISU history to record at least 1,400 points, 600 rebounds, 300 assists and 175 steals.
One of the Cyclones' all-time greatest performers, without question.
And yet, somehow, even though Hoiberg was a fantastic collegiate player, I don't remember him EVER taunting an opponent or pointing at himself after a good play. I just remember him keeping a straight face and sprinting to the other end of the floor.
That's what winners do. That's what role models do. That's what Fred Hoiberg did.
I saw the Cyclones practice a couple of times when Hoiberg was playing and he was the same guy in practice that we saw on game nights. He worked harder than anyone, was as intense as anyone, made the right plays at the right times, and just kept giving his all. Every play. All the time. A tremendous leader by example.
You had to love watching this guy play.
A couple of months after his ISU career ended in 1995, Hoiberg and some of his former teammates — Loren Meyer, James Hamilton, Hurl Beechum, Julius Michalik and others — were playing against some of the local guys in our area in Northwest Iowa. I was a part of the "Washington Generals"-type squad and got the chance to guard Hoiberg. It was a blast. He was a great guy and everyone had fun.
During the game, Hoiberg was running near the baseline and he spotted my brother holding one of my nephews a few feet from the court. Hoiberg ran over, asked my brother if he wanted a photo and held my nephew — who was wearing an ISU sweatshirt — for a picture. Then, he ran back down the court. A nice gesture that he didn't have to make. But it's one that we'll always remember.
The next fall, Hoiberg started his NBA career with the Indiana Pacers. He played four seasons for them and the last four years with the Bulls. His career totals include:
- 386 games in 8 seasons.
- 1,977 points.
- 989 rebounds.
- 652 assists.
- 312 steals.
- 227 three-pointers made.
- Best game: 28 points and 13 assists at Milwaukee in 2001.
Last week in The Chicago Tribune it was reported that Bulls' General Manager John Paxson told Hoiberg that he should look elsewhere for an opportunity to play, and that Paxson would give him another look in the fall if he remained unsigned.
It could be the end of the NBA road for Hoiberg.
Let's hope not. Let's hope that this Cyclone legend lands with another NBA team next season and makes it back to the playoffs.
Regardless, it's been a blast watching one of Iowa's all-time finest athletes — and role models — throughout his basketball career. It's always fun to see a terrific athlete work hard, achieve as much as he can, never appear satisfied and perform in a first-class manner on and off the court.
The NBA could certainly use more guys like Hoiberg.
So could sports fans.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)