This isn’t the kind of story we normally post in this space, but I wanted to share it nonetheless. It’s a sports story or, perhaps, maybe 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.
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.
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.
Jill 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 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. Jill 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 can 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. Jill was going to be a mom and she couldn’t have been more excited. She had found her soul mate and was finally about to start a family. Life was good.
Life is cruel too.
Sunday night Jill’s favorite team, the Dallas Mavericks, were getting set to play San Antonio in game four of the Western Conference playoffs. She felt a sudden 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. Jill 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 family, just like you would or just like your would do anything for your family. She was a great friend. The kind of friend we all want to be and hopefully, if we are lucky, the kind of friend we have. Jill 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, love. We carry on with life and 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.