Despite setting the thermostat in his West Loop apartment at 60 degrees before he slept, Jordan Cornette woke up in the middle of the night in a full sweat.
"In a lot of ways it seemed supernatural because it was freezing in my room from having the air-conditioning cranked," Cornette recalled in an interview.
The former Notre Dame basketball player, now a broadcaster living in Chicago, felt fine physically. He went to the bathroom to towel off. Before returning to bed around 3 a.m., Cornette checked the clock on his phone to see how late it was. He saw a stream of urgent text messages from friends and family members trying desperately to reach him.
CALL ME NOW.
IT'S REALLY BAD.
Frantically, Cornette called his mom, Christi, back home in Cincinnati. She was up. Everybody in Cornette's inner circle was up.
"All she said was, 'He's gone,'" Cornette said. "I remember falling to the floor and just screaming."
Joel Cornette, an affable agent for Priority Sports who established a name for himself as a Butler basketball star, died suddenly Aug. 16 in his River North apartment from coronary atherosclerosis — clogging of the arteries. He was 35 — 21 months older than his brother Jordan.
The competitive Cornette brothers, known to fist-fight in the driveway during basketball games growing up, grew closer living in the same city again the past few years, enjoying each other's company only 48 hours earlier in Chicago at a bachelor party for younger brother Jonathan. As family members said their goodbyes after the bash, Joel asked a favor of his father, Joel Sr., that hardly seems routine in retrospect.
"Joel pulled me over and said, 'Dad, before you go, let's get a picture,'" Joel Sr. said in a video the American Heart Association produced to raise awareness. "That was my last picture with him. I cherish that picture today."
The images that flood Jordan's mind range from all those days playing hoops with his older brother to the final chaotic night of Joel's life. After rushing over in his car to the complex on West Huron in what felt like a blur, Jordan finally talked police at the building into letting him go upstairs. But his quest to see his stricken brother to receive closure stopped there.
"The cops said I couldn't come in and contaminate the scene," Jordan said. "I never saw Joel's face again."
That reality still haunts Cornette almost seven months later — and probably always will. Staying busy as an analyst for FS1 has helped Cornette cope with Joel's loss, but he worries how he will react when there are no more games to cover.
He expects the next three weeks to be especially challenging, from Selection Sunday through "One Shining Moment," the song traditionally played at the end of the NCAA championship game that the Cornette brothers always considered their anthem — even making cameo appearances in 2003, when Notre Dame and Butler qualified for the tournament.
"If my brother was living and you asked him what the biggest thing for him was, he'd say it was to be in 'One Shining Moment' when we were in it together," Jordan said. "To this day, I'll just watch that on a random Wednesday. So this year, seeing that again, it will be so emotional because in some ways, it will mark the end of this crazy, crazy year."
On March 24, 2003, Joel Cornette scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 40 furious minutes to will 12th-seeded Butler past fourth-seeded Louisville in a 79-71 stunner that advanced the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16. The 100th victory of Cornette's career announced the arrival of Butler as an NCAA tournament team to be more feared than welcomed every March, a mindset many Bulldogs, from former coach Brad Stevens to current players, still trace to Joel's passionate postgame comments.
"On paper, people think we're nothing, that we can't match up with anybody and we shouldn't be here," Joel began that day. "If you watched TV, you barely knew we were playing today. Nobody talked about it. Nobody cared. Nobody gave us a shot. If this game wasn't on TV, nobody said a word about us.
"It would still be the same excitement, the same feeling because we're still playing for a national championship and we are still here."
We are still here. The bold words became part of Joel's legacy, a phrase that became a mantra for a Butler program he took pride in watching develop a national presence.
"That class started something," Jordan said. "That's why Joel is so revered there."
So when Jordan frantically called Butler coach Chris Holtmann the day after Joel's death, hoping to hold a memorial tribute at Hinkle Fieldhouse, at his mom's request, he found comfort in the quick response. Jordan never had met Holtmann and the tragedy coincided with the return of students to campus, but the coach assured the Cornettes the university would do anything for Joel.
"Without asking anyone, 'Holt' said, 'I know it's a busy time, but screw it, we'll make it happen,'" Jordan said. "Since then, the bond has been steady and the Butler family has treated me like a little brother."
Joel's former Butler teammates still text Jordan regularly. He hears from Stevens, now the Celtics coach. After attending the August service with the entire Butler team, transfer Avery Woodson approached Holtmann about changing his jersey number to 0 because he thought wearing Joel's No. 33 would be disrespecting his memory.
With Jordan announcing courtside for FS1 when Butler defeated St. John's last month, Woodson scored a season-high 20 points.
"That kid went off right in front of me .. and while I don't go to church every Sunday, I've become a spiritual person," Jordan said. "I believe people who were in your life find ways to grab you. And I've had that happen a lot with Joel."
Interviewing Holtmann after that game, Jordan's voice cracked invoking his brother's connection to Woodson.
"I'm getting chills right now," Holtmann said.
Before announcing one college basketball game this winter, an official shook Jordan's hand and congratulated him for a great career at Butler.
"He goes, 'I did your games and you were a hell of a player,'" Jordan said. "I loved hearing that, but I had to say, 'No, my brother actually left us.' I thought that was Joel's way of letting me know, 'Hey, you (expletive), I'm still the guy.'"
Jordan laughed, marveling at how people offer condolences anywhere and everywhere. While working a game at San Jose State, for example, a Butler alumnus from the Bay Area introduced himself out of the blue.
"He says, 'My daughter was born during your brother's tournament run in 2003, and I'm so sorry what happened that I wanted to tell you,'" Jordan said. "My brother had cockiness and a swagger, like when he sat at the podium and said, 'We're still here,' but never let on he had so many antennas touching people."
During preproduction meetings with coaches, such as Memphis' Tubby Smith, Jordan says Joel's passing is the first thing that comes up. Former NBA coach Monty Williams, a Notre Dame graduate who grieved the loss of his wife, called the Cornette family. Digger Phelps gave Jordan what he called the best advice he received — never cry in front of his mom. Expressing grief moved one well-intentioned assistant coach to tears. Another on the East Tennessee State staff texted Jordan after the Buccaneers qualified for the NCAA tournament Monday to say, "No doubt, Joel was in our huddle."
"Joel was genuine, had charisma and a knack for building relationships," Jordan said.
Those traits helped Joel become a good agent known for his ability to close deals after he left coaching in 2010 following a stint on Todd Lickliter's Iowa staff. To ease the transition, Stevens offered to make a call on Joel's behalf to Mark Bartelstein, the respected CEO of Priority Sports.
"Brad said if you happen to be looking for somebody, I've got a guy who would be off-the-charts good at it," said Bartelstein, who spoke at the service. "And he was right. Joel was a great teammate. We're in a business a lot of people want to make about them, and he set a tone of selflessness. He made a huge impact and is missed greatly."
For the first few months after his brother died, Jordan lay awake at night for hours.
"I couldn't sleep for fear my heart was going to stop," he said.
Constant fear sent Jordan to the cardiologist, who reassured him not to worry about family history or genetics. The experience inspired Jordan to alter his lifestyle, eating right and exercising regularly — habits Joel too often avoided. At 6-foot-9, Joel weighed 280 pounds at the time of his death.
As Joel Sr. says somberly in the AHA video, "Everybody at 35 thinks you're going to live forever." As Jordan pointed out, every 42 seconds in America someone succumbs to a heart attack. Looking back, everybody saw little signs.
"Joel ate too much fast food, drank a lot and didn't get his sleep," said Jordan, who partnered with the American Heart Association to fight cardiovascular disease. "That's a scary thing for athletes who are ... overgrown, larger people. He did things you could get away with when you're playing sports but you can't get away with when you're no longer working out four hours a day."
The other changes Jordan made cannot be measured by stepping on the scale or looking in the mirror. But they are even more noticeable.
"I don't max life out every day, but I do live with a greater appreciation and take time to smell the roses ... like when I do a broadcast and I'm flying back in a middle seat and frustrated, I still say, 'It's a great life,'" Jordan said. "Joel would look at it that way. You know that corny thing: 'What Would Jesus Do'? Now I ask, 'What Would Joel Do.'"
Joel likely would be smiling widely, proud of Jordan for celebrating how his big brother lived and educating people about why he died.
"The main thing is, and I was almost aggressive about it at the funeral, was ... don't forget my brother," Jordan said, his words trailing.
He paused to wipe his eyes and collect himself.
"I'm sorry, I said I wasn't going to cry — I just don't want people to forget," Jordan continued. "I do worry what comes next when I don't have basketball. So many people identify my brother with this month, and 'One Shining Moment' to me is where the legend of my brother lives on most. When Joel said, 'We're still here!'
"I have no doubt that in every part of my life, he's still here."