November 27, 2015

One of the nicest people you’ve never met

Jill Harrington Hanzalik and NBA commissioner David Stern

Jill Harrington Hanzalik and NBA commissioner David Stern

This isn’t the kind of story we normally post in this space, but I wanted to share it nonetheless.  It is a sports story or, perhaps,  maybe it  more so a life story.  Regardless, it is a story I want to tell.

The call came in about 9:00.  We were eating dinner.  Lauren’s cell phone was buzzing, the caller I.D. read “Jill-work”.  It was her best friend and a call from her usually was followed by an extended conversation that could last longer than a round of golf. 

Not tonight.

She didn’t want to be rude and wasn’t going to answer.  I told her it was fine.  Dinner was almost over and I could tell she wanted to talk.  “It’s fine.  Really.  Go ahead, answer.”

Lauren answered.  Within thirty seconds she was in tears. Sobbing uncontrollably.  It wasn’t Jill on the line.

You have never heard of Jill Harrington.  Those of you that have followed ACC and SEC basketball closely for the past several years probably remember her brother, Adam.  Adam Harrington   began his college basketball career at N.C. State, where he played for one season before transferring to Auburn.

 Adam was an above average  player.  He was a 6-5 shooting guard with a sweet stroke that quickly helped him make a name for himself in the ACC.   He became the first freshman in N.C. State history to lead the Wolfpack in scoring.  As a wide-eyed freshman he went in to Cameron Indoor Stadium and dropped 26 points on Duke.   He  played so well his first season that he was named to the All-ACC Freshman team.

Adam had some baggage though.  Despite his success at State he decided to transfer to another school.  Rumors flew about why he was leaving and there were some that thought Adam was trolling around with hat in hand.  The questions didn’t stop when he landed at Auburn.

It was clear Adam was veering off course.  Clear to his family anyway.  Clear to his sister.  Jill packed her bags and left her home in Bernardston, Massachusetts and headed to Alabama to be there for her brother.  It wasn’t easy.  Adam was like a lot of young, talented athletes that aren’t used to being told no.  He liked the star treatment and there were plenty of people willing to give it to him.  Jill wasn’t one of them.  She was the oldest of three Harrington siblings and she wasn’t about to sit back and watch her baby brother throw his life away.

Adam Harrington still plays overseas

Adam Harrington still plays overseas

So Jill stayed with Adam and worked hard to to keep him on track and Adam continued to excel on the court.  After sitting out a year because of the transfer he averaged 15 points per game as a sophomore. He dropped 27 points against Kentucky.  He scored 25 against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament.   He became a key cog on the team.

It wasn’t always easy but Jill did her best to keep her brother in line.  When it was clear college wasn’t for him Adam made the decision to enter the 2002 NBA draft as a junior.  He watched as each name was called.  His never was.  He sat there in utter disappointment. He was crushed. Jill was right by his side.

She was with him too when he was signed as a free agent by the Dallas Mavericks.  Adam had fulfilled his dream of making it in the NBA.  Jill no doubt felt a special sense of accomplishment to see her baby brother in uniform at the end of the Mavs bench.

Adam bounced around to a few other NBA teams but Jill stayed put in Dallas.  She took a job working for the Mavericks and quickly became a favorite in the organization.  Mark Cuban liked her so much he made her one of his assistants.  She and her close friends would go out to dinner with Dirk Nowitzki after home games.  She insisted on paying for her own meals and drinks because she never wanted anyone to think she was there for a free dinner.  She was respected.  She was loved.

Jill brushed shoulders with the NBA elite

Jill brushed shoulders with the NBA elite

Jill was passionate about sports. She grew up as an athlete in a family of athletes.  She was a phenomenal basketball player and especially loved the NBA.  With Adam doing well playing in the D-League and overseas she decided to take a job with the NBA front office in New York City.  It was closer to home and a chance to continue doing what she loved.

Jill’s dedication and passion for her work was evident.  She spent countless hours working on the league’s business development, taking trips across the world to spread the game she loved.  She spent time working with the Olympic team and brushed shoulders every day with the big wigs of the League.   It was a dream job.  Everything was falling into place.

Something was missing though.  She was in her early 30’s and like any girl she wanted to get married and have a family.  The NBA was wonderful, but a wedding and a family was her real dream.  She had a great job and a great life, yet she still felt alone.  New York  may be the greatest city in the world, but it may also be the loneliest.  Jill longed for something, for someone.

She found that someone when she met Joseph Hanzalik.  They met when Jill was paying a visit to her other brother, Kevin. Shortly after he met Jill, Joe told Kevin that he was going to marry her.  It is the kind of thing guys say sometimes without actually meaning it, but  Joe meant it. He and Jill were married May 16th 2009.

Jill gave up her job with the NBA and moved to West Dover, Vermont to start her new life with Joe.  She had never been happier.  They immediately decided to start a family.  Jill had always wanted kids, she absolutely adored children.  She was great with her friend’s kids, jumping at the chance to spend time with them and always bringing them cool NBA swag. T-shirts, basketballs, pens, stickers, you name it.  She loved kids and kids loved her.  Now she really wanted one of her own.

In September she got the news she had been waiting for:  she was pregnant.  She was going to be a mom and couldn’t be more excited.  She had found her soul mate and was about to start a family.  Life was good.

Life is cruel too.

Sunday night Jill’s favorite team, the Dallas Mavericks, was getting set to play San Antonio in game four of the Western Conference playoffs.  Jill felt a pain in her abdomen.  Joe was worried so he took her to the hospital.  His heart dropped when the doctors told him about an infection that was causing complications with the pregnancy. They would have to operate immediately.

Jill’s baby boy wasn’t due until June and was about three weeks away from being full term but the doctors couldn’t wait. They operated and brought Chase Thomas Hanzalik into the world early.  Joe held Chase briefly before the doctors scurried the sick baby away.  Chase died shortly after.

The infection was too much for little Chase to overcome.  It turns out it was too much for Jill to overcome too.  She died shortly after Chase.  She was 33 years old.

You have never met Jill, but you know her.  She loved sports, just like you do.  She would have done anything for her siblings, just like you would or just like your sibling would have or maybe even has done for you.  She was a great friend, just as you are and hopefully, if you are lucky, just like you have.  She was good people.  The kind we need more of in this world.  And now she’s gone.

It is so easy to take all the things we love in life for granted.  Sports, friends, family-we just assume they will always be there waiting for us.  Usually they are, but sometimes life has other plans and just like that, they are gone.

 Just like Jill.

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  1. Steve Dunham says:

    Really tough subject…Really good writing.

  2. Ed Devine says:

    I worked for her brother Kevin and her Husband Joe at Mt. Snow and you will never meet finer people.
    My heart is heavy with sadness for their loss.

  3. Helen Noeth says:

    I don’t know them but they sound like they would be a pleasure to know and my heart aches tremendously….thank you for telling this story.

  4. John Lombard says:

    A very nice tribute to Jill. Our hearts and prayers go out to Jill, Chase, Joe and their families. John and Loraine Lombard

  5. I worked with Jill at the Mavs and she was one of the sweetest, most kind-hearted people I have had the honor to know in my life. My thoughts and prayers are with her other friends and family. She will definitely be missed but will live through everyone she came in contact with.

  6. Ellen Walker says:

    Very well written and we here at New Chapter are missing her with very heavy hearts. Thank you for sharing your story of our Jill.

  7. lex gidley says:

    I too work for Joe and Kevin and am deeply saddened by this as well. I hope we all can use her example to improve ourselves.

  8. Though I only met Jill once, I have had the pleasure of knowing her brother Kevin and husband Joe for a few years…the kind of young men that you know will achieve success. This unbelievable event will hopefully make them realize how precious life is and try to live it to it’s fullest knowing that one day they will meet up with Jill and Chase again.

  9. John Dubois says:

    Thank you Kevin and Lauren for a wonderful tribute to our Jill
    Uncle John

  10. Liz Miller says:

    Beautiful story about a beautiful person whose life was cut so terribly short. I was blessed to work with Jill at the NBA. Her smile, energy and love for life will really be missed. I still can’t believe she is gone. May she and baby Chase rest in peace, and may her husband and family find comfort and love through our prayers in this time of terrible tragedy.

  11. I worked at the NBA when Jill was there and crossed paths with her a bit. I could see her work ethic and fighting spirit a mile away. I was so happy when I heard she’d been married moved to VT, and now, so saddened to hear this news and my heart, prayers and thoughts go out to her husband and family.

  12. This is so sad… Thanks for sharing and inspiring us all to be like Jill.

  13. My heart is very heavy over the loss of this exceptional young woman. I worked with her at New Chapter and found her smile infectious. Such a sad loss for her husband and family. A light has gone out in this earth.

  14. I lost my boy Cam 3yrs ago, so I know what its like to have everything an then have it taking away. My thoughts are with her family.

  15. A true testament to a wonderful person and family member.
    You will be sadly missed and fondly remembered.

  16. Worked with Jill at an event in London. She was a beautiful spirit. Her smile would light up a room. My condolences to her family. She touched my heart.

  17. I worked with Jill at the NBA – she was a wonderful person. Heaven is blessed to have her, but the world we live in is a lot more empty now that she is gone. My thoughts and prayers are with Jill’s family.

  18. Garrett Tillotson says:

    What I’ll always remember about Jill was her sense of humor… which is a hallmark of her entire family. That something like this should happen to her… to them… to her husband… it’s just not right. I’m so sorry.

  19. Mike Kelley says:

    I knew Jill and the entire Harrington family. I was a sports reporter for the Greenfield Recorder and covered Jill, Adam and Kevin. Jill was a passionate person who loved her family and would do anything for them. As I know myself life is very cruel. While we lost a great person heaven gained one.

  20. Erin Wright says:

    I feel blessed to have known Jill over the past 2 years, working with her at New Chapter. I cherish every moment we spent together and I have no doubt that she has left a mark on my heart and the hearts of many. She will be missed deeply. . .

  21. yenifer cruel says:

    I didnt know much about her life but i did know she love the yogurt muffin we have in the nba cafe. she always ask me for a special one on thursday i’ll always remember prayers to her and her baby boy…

  22. Shauna says:

    I did not personally know Jill but what I have learned of Jill due to this tragedy has saddened me and changed my life in this past week. My thoughts and prayers are with all of Jill’s family and her husband at this most difficult time. This article says it all, when it states Life can be cruel”. It just doesn’t seem fair. Jill’s spirit will live on through family and friends, and I will use her as an inspiration each day.May Jill and Chase find peace in heaven.

  23. Lisa S. Porter says:

    Met Jill back in our old York College days. She called me “Wita”. She was wonderful and beautiful person. I will miss her laugh and smile. What a wonderful tribute…. thank you. My heart aches and I will miss her dearly.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the family and all her friends.

  24. Mark D. Stahelski says:

    Angels do exist, and we had one with us down here on earth for 33+ years until God decided to call her home. I work at the same place as Jill’s mom, and worked with Jill while she worked with us, and only saw her a few other times when she came to the office to visit her mom, but Jill was one of those special people that even if you only met her once, you’d never forget her. Jill, you will be missed by all who knew you. My thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends for her loss and also the loss of her newborn son, Chase.