Everybody needs a best friend like former Iowa basketball player Mike "Tree" Henry

Former Iowa players Vince Brookins, Mike Henry and Steve Waite with Kenny Arnold at Fry Fest.

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The funeral for Kenny Arnold on Monday had been over for several hours when Mike Henry started to picture life without his best friend and former Iowa teammate.

Henry was physically and emotionally exhausted after having gone from helping to stage a fundraiser basketball game on behalf of Arnold in Mason City on Saturday to helping with Arnold’s funeral in Chicago barely 24 hours later.

“We’ve still been super busy,” Henry said. “We had the game this past weekend in Mason City and came straight back to get everything organized and ran all day today and hearing everybody talk about it and going to the ceremony.

“But I think it will probably be tomorrow when reality really sinks in. Things will be slowing down, the phone calls and everything. It’s going to be a big change and it’s starting to hit now.”

Life without Kenny Arnold is the next chapter for Henry and it begins with a mix of sadness, relief, trepidation and curiosity.

Henry and Arnold were practically joined at the hip, the ultimate in friendship whose bond would grow stronger through adversity.

They met for the first time when Arnold made a recruiting visit to Iowa and the two Illinois natives became friends right away.

Arnold, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, would go on to become a starting guard for Iowa’s 1980 Final Four team, while Henry was a 6-foot-8 reserve forward on that team and throughout his Hawkeye career.

Arnold started for three seasons at Iowa and was part of four teams that finished first, fourth, second and second in the Big Ten.

He was a key player during the glory years under Lute Olson and nearly made the Dallas Mavericks NBA roster.

Henry, on the other hand, appeared in 55 games over four seasons, but in a limited role as he averaged just 1.5 points per game as a Hawkeye.

But even without being a key player, Henry was popular with his teammates and with the fans because of his infectious personality, his constant smile and his willingness to help and support others.

His nickname was “Tree” and fans would chant it every time Henry made an appearance in a game.

Henry still is called “Tree” to this day, and he still smiles a lot and still has a willingness to help and support others.

That was never more apparent than when Henry accepted the daunting task of helping Kenny Arnold persevere through more than three decades of serious health issues that started with a brain tumor in the mid-1980s.

Henry was sort of like Arnold’s guardian angel, always there to shine light on the darkness, and to comfort his friend.

Everybody needs a best friend like Mike “Tree” Henry” and Arnold knew that he was extremely fortunate in that regard.

They both inspired each other with their love and determination.

Henry dedicated much of his adult life to helping Arnold cope with his health issues. It was a daily grind that tested Henry's patience and resolve.

"None of us were unselfish enough to do what he did," former Iowa player Mark Gannon said of Henry's commitment to Arnold.

Henry also lives in the Chicago area, so that made it easier for him to stay connected to Arnold.

But it still took a huge commitment and incredible kindness for Henry to be at Arnold’s side for so many years.

The fact that Henry was willing to do that speaks volumes about him and about Arnold.

Henry basically made it his life's mission to help Arnold, but with that came many sacrifices.

"He really put his life on hold for somebody else," Gannon said of Henry. "I think financially it hurt. I think he isolated himself from a lot of his friends just based on, hey. this is taking priority. And I don't know many people that would do that.

"And all for the glory of Kenny. That's pretty cool."

Gannon often was present when Henry would bring Arnold to Iowa City for medical treatment. Arnold was confined to a wheelchair and relied on Henry to get from one place to another.

"Kenny was just like a giant bag of sand," Gannon said. "He couldn't grab a hold of you to lift him out of the vehicle and set him in his wheelchair. He had to be lifted out of his wheelchair and put back in the car. I helped as much as I could help, but Tree would just like bear hug him and put him in the car. And it was hard on Mike. His body has taken a pounding over the years, bad knees and bad back." 

Henry was pleased that so many different people attended Arnold’s wake and funeral on Monday. Those in attendance included most of the players from Iowa’s 1980 Final Four team, including star point guard Ronnie Lester, and some of Arnold’s former high school teammates and friends from his neighborhood in Chicago.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery also attended the service, much to the delight of Henry.

“I was happy he was able to make it,” Henry said. “We saw him on Friday when we were in Iowa City and he said he was going to do everything he could to make it. And I really appreciate that because I know he’s in the middle of his recruiting season, and to take time to come out and recognize Kenny is awesome.”

Henry isn't sure how he will fill the void left by Arnold or the time that he spent helping his friend.

Henry has a passion for photography and he hopes to dedicate more time to that.

But it won't be easy moving on from a life spent helping a friend.

Kenny Arnold deserved better from life, but he couldn't have had a better best friend than Mike Henry.