By SHANE STURTZ
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Around 30 years ago, a young kid from Detroit flew into Iowa City and stepped onto the University of Iowa campus for the first time.
Four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament as a Hawkeye and three NBA Championships later, the young kid from Detroit returned to Iowa City to grand marshal the 2019 Homecoming parade. B.J. Armstrong, who met with the Iowa men’s basketball team Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, never imagined he would be the grand marshal 30 years ago.
“Iowa means everything to me,” Armstrong said. “When they called, I was shocked. I thought it was a joke at first. I always look at myself as a kid from Detroit. I am very happy and I’ve had a smile on my face since I’ve been on campus.”
Armstrong’s first time on the Midwest campus started with a recruiting pitch from hall of fame coach George Raveling.
“You’re going to love the people here and it’s going to be nothing like you’ve ever experienced before,” Armstrong recalled Raveling saying. “He was right. He spoke highly about the people and fans.”
It’s the fans — the fans who packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the ’80s for shirts-versus-skins games before football games — that has stood out to Armstrong since the beginning.
“The one thing that hasn’t changed has been the people,” he said. “People are still smiling, friendly, and helpful. That’s what attracted me to Iowa in the first place. There has been a lot of change (in Iowa City), but the people haven’t, and that’s great to see.”
Armstrong met some of his greatest friends, from different backgrounds, at Iowa.
“I didn’t know anything about North Dakota, but then I met one of my best friends, Les Jepsen,” Armstrong said.
The same can be said for Illinois natives Kevin Gamble and Ed Horton or Gerry Wright from California. All of these talents from around the country made Iowa basketball a spectacle during Armstrong’s career.
One of the most special moments of Armstrong’s career was the ’86-87 season where the Hawkeyes won 30 games under first-year head coach Tom Davis.
“When coach Davis and his staff came in, they gave us confidence,” Armstrong said. “We took responsibility and had a great group of guys, who all liked each other. Everyone was coachable and was all rooting for reach other. We had ingredients for success.”
Gamble, Wright, and Brad Lohaus provided senior leadership, while the backcourt duo of Armstrong and Iowa’s all-time leading scorer Roy Marble propelled Iowa to the school’s first-ever No. 1 ranking after winning the first 18 games of the season.
Iowa ultimately fell in the Elite Eight, but it was one of many highlights in Armstrong’s illustrious collegiate career. The two-time All-Big Ten honoree left Iowa as the program’s all-time leader in assists, before being taken by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1989 NBA Draft.
In his second NBA season, Armstrong won the first of his three straight NBA titles, which was truly a dream come true.
“I never imagined I would win one championship, let alone three,” Armstrong said. “To play in an incredible city of Chicago with some great players like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen under (head coach) Phil Jackson was quite the treat. I never would have imagined I would achieve the success I did as a professional. I’ve been humbled by that experience.”
After entering the record books, becoming one of only five NBA teams to three-peat, Armstrong continued to play at a high level. He was named to the 1994 NBA All-Star Game as a starter.
“To be able to reach that pinnacle, I can’t tell you what it meant to my family and all the people that played a part,” Armstrong said. “We all dream of it, but to say you’ve done it was something I cherish.”
A young kid from Detroit turned dreams into reality, and Armstrong considers it a privilege that his dreams started with a detour in Iowa City.
“Some of my fondest memories happened at the University of Iowa,” Armstrong said. “I was born in Detroit, but I consider Iowa home.”