The “Good Old Days” came back for a day!

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!

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My most memorable moment from UH vs. UT Basketball Game

Last Wednesday, the Houston Cougars beat the Texas Longhorns in men’s basketball with the score of 73-72. I hope you were there in person to experience the most poignant moment of the game.

No, I am not talking about the alley-oop pass by Danuel House to kick off the game, although it did set the tone for the rest of the evening.

No, I am not talking about Joseph Young’s buzzer-beater 3-pointer to end the first half, although that did bring the entire house down.

No, I am not talking about Cougar’s 72-seconds 11-0 run, although that did bring UT’s momentum to a screeching halt.

And no, I am not talking about House’s dazzling shot with 17.7 seconds remaining on the clock, although it was the winning score of the night.

My poignant moment came at the conclusion of the game.  Cougar players did not take pictures of the scoreboard, they did not hug each other and danced on the court, they did not run to their coaches and lifted them on their shoulders.  Instead, these Cougars ran toward the student section, jumped up in the stands, joined them in  victory chorus and danced with them.  The rest of the fans delayed their exist and watched this touching moment. The band played on, the cheerleaders cheered, the spectators stood mid-court. All eyes were on the student section!  Students–they filled two entire sections–had stayed and supported their team like never before.  They cheered. They chanted. They screamed. They waved their hands. And they created a thundering noise.  Undoubtedly they were a big factor in swinging the momentum of the game. The players knew it, too, and now it was time for the players to be with their supporters to express their gratitude and share their joy.

To me, that is what college athletics is all about.  Winning and losing?  Of course!  But most important, learning to bind as a force and belong as a community.  At that moment, those players were the heroes and they could have easily huddled together and celebrated themselves, but they did what Cougars always do. Share their joy with others!

To me personally, who never had a chance to play any sports (my high school and college, like most in rural India, did not have any), this was a magical moment!

Congratulations Team!  The win was good, but the winners were the best!!

It is more than March Madness

College sports have a way of taking over our lives. Each year, I vow to remain calm, but each year I get more emotionally vested than the year before. Day-long tailgates, red-hot rivalries, logic-defying superstitions, post-game dances, post-loss depressions, pre-game butterflies, nail-biting anxieties–I have lived it all. I thought I was a real serious fan until I met Murray and Sharon Stinson.

Since the day they settled in Houston 35 years ago, Murray and Sharon have attended every single University of Houston Cougar football and basketball game–at home or away–except 8. Eight misses in 35 years! Yes, it makes for nearly 1,600 games! Whether the football team was 0-12 or 12-0, whether the basketball team was the famous Phi Slama Jama or filled with yet-to-be-proven new recruits, whether the game was in California on a Tuesday night or in Orlando on a Wednesday afternoon, or whether the weather was subzero or above 100°, they were at the game. They were simply there.

Sometimes at away games, Murray and Sharon were the only two people in the stands wearing red, but they were there.murray and Sharon Stinson

I sat next to them at my first Cougar basketball game in 2008. Murray was intense, but mostly quiet. Sharon, on the other hand, was animated, calling out players by name, yelling at referees, and signaling the crowd to make some noise. They knew every coach and cared for every player. They even knew all about the referees.

Since then, I saw them at every game and every Cougar sporting event. No bragging, no egos, no grandstanding, and no sideline coaching…they were at the games for the simple joy of the moment. In all of my years as president, which included major athletics decision points like recruiting an athletic director, a football coach, and a basketball coach, I never recall Murray or Sharon telling me what I should do or who I should hire.

Just like a rainbow, their support comes in different colors. They have endowed scholarships for student-athletes. Murray introduced the Helmet Buggy which runs on the field after every touchdown. On senior nights, Sharon bakes cupcakes for the entire team. They do so much and all of it for the simple joy of supporting their team.

During this time of March Madness, Murray and Sharon remind us that there is more to athletics than the few weeks of madness, that there is more to the games than winning or losing, that there is more to college sports than being a fair-weather fan.

Real madness is loving your school 1,600 times over!