LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The family of one of the greatest University of Louisville basketball players of all time received heartbreaking news after a treasured piece of his storied career disappeared. Russ Smith's national championship jersey was tossed in the trash and lost by Federal Express.
Fed Ex said the effort to find the jersey doesn't look good. What makes all this worse is that Smith had given the jersey to his father as a testament to all they had accomplished together.
During UofL's senior celebration Russ Smith stood at center court, joined by his father, Russ Smith Sr., or "Big Russ."
Russ Smith was presented with a beautiful black frame, inside was his Final Four jersey, the one he wore in 2013 when he cut down the nets in Atlanta. Without hesitation, he gave it to his dad to hang up in his shop in Brooklyn.
"For them to reward you, with your own trophy. Getting that plaque. Your jersey. It's a hell of a dream," Big Russ said.
Too big to fit on the plane back home, Big Russ had it shipped using Fed Ex. But when it arrived, the glass and frame were cracked.
That didn't stop Big Russ from hanging it on the wall while he filed a claim with Fed Ex to replace the frame.
Fed Ex agreed to pay, but told Big Russ the claims department had to inspect the damage first.
"I said do I have to send the jersey back? They said yes, you have to send it back," he said.
All the way back to the Louisville packing facility where it was originally shipped which is where the unthinkable happened. The jersey got thrown away.
"The employee had marked it to discard yes," said Erin Truxal, the manager of public relations for Fed Ex Ground.
Truxal said for safety reasons it's company policy to toss out any returned boxes with broken glass without opening them to see what's inside.
"You know I don't have the specific whereabouts," Truxal said of where the jersey ended up.
She said Fed Ex is now looking for security video that might answer that question. She did not sound hopeful.
"I say this on behalf of everyone at Fed Ex ground. We do sincerely apologize," Truxal said.
And while Big Russ said you can never take away the national championship, that jersey is a part of his son's career he may never get back.
"Something that was in the making his whole life. Almost like, gone," Big Russ said.
Fed Ex is paying Big Russ the full $1,000 insurance policy he took out on the package and offering to pay to frame a replacement jersey. But Big Russ said the jersey is irreplaceable.
"You can't put a price on it," he said.
Truxal said Fed Ex will continue to investigate to make sure one of their employees didn't take the jersey. But they say right now, it looks like this was an honest mistake.