I was not at the University of Houston when Coach Guy Lewis and his Phi Slama Jama team became a national sensation. Nor was I here when Coach Lewis made history by playing UCLA—and winning—in the first ever nationally televised basketball game. But from the day I arrived on campus in 2008, I started hearing about that magical time. I could see it in the eyes of those who told me, with intense fondness, stories about the “good old days.”
So, when the time came, it didn’t take me any time to decide to make the trip to Springfield, Massachusetts, for the induction ceremony for Coach Lewis, and experience the magic myself.
I arrived in Springfield already on cloud nine since our Cougars had defeated Temple in a hard-fought game just a day before. As I walked into the hotel lobby to check in, it was clear that celebrities were staying there. A line of visitors was already gathering behind ropes to catch a glimpse, or better yet, to grab their autographs. A while later, I came down from my room to join our group, and sure enough, I soon saw who the fans had been waiting for –Elvyn Hayes and Clyde Drexler were in the middle of the commotion, hugging their Cougar fans, giving high-fives to each other, and signing autographs.
Decked in red, we all accompanied Coach Lewis, who was in his wheel chair, to the nearby hall. By then, Hakeem Olajuwon had also joined in the group. I must admit that it felt like a Hollywood premier! People were standing on both sides of the street, clapping and cheering for our icons. Cougars had brought the biggest line-up of stars for this ceremony. Our players were being stopped left and right by every television and radio station for a quick interview.
We then arrived at the buffet given in honor of the inductees. The ballroom ceiling appeared awfully low and my neck soon started to hurt. And then it dawned on me that the room was full of 7-foot basketball players!
For the next one hour, the event seemed like a big celebration for Cougars (no, I am not biased). If anyone wanted to find Coach Lewis and his players, all one had to do was to look in the direction of the biggest and loudest group in the crowd. Reporters, players, coaches, referees—all wanted to take photographs with Coach Lewis and his former star players.
The induction ceremony began with the pump and show of a live television awards program. At the appointed time, a short video was shown to introduce Coach Lewis, and then from the left of the stage Elvyn, Hakeem and Clyde wheeled Coach Lewis to center stage. Everyone in the hall jumped to their feet. The applause lasted for what seemed like an eternity. There was so much pent-up joy and gratitude in crowd’s heart, and it felt like they wanted to pour it all out that minute, right then and there.
On his face, Coach Lewis had the smile worthy of an artist’s brush or poet’s pen!
We all had teary eyes! It truly was a special moment! Thank you, Coach Lewis, for once again putting the University of Houston on the national map! It was a long time coming, but we are all happy that you finally honored the Hall of Fame by being a part of it!