Our Guy should be in
The opening sentence on the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s website about its history is, “Since 1959, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has honored and celebrated the game’s greatest moments and brightest stars.”
The purpose of museums is to educate. The Basketball Hall of Fame is a museum. Its walls keep alive the game’s greatest stories and legacies of the best and most influential. But the story of the game that it attempts to tell its visitors about is incomplete.
Former University of Houston basketball head coach Guy V. Lewis was passed over by the Hall’s voting committee again this year.
And it’s ridiculous.
Lewis became eligible for election in 1999. His eligibility expired in 2007. Since first becoming eligible, the Hall has enshrined WNBA coaches, coaches from Yugoslavia, Euroleague coaches and high school coaches. That’s a joke. It’s not wrong that those people were put in the Hall — they’re all worthy, but not more worthy than Lewis.
Lewis, 90, is the owner of 592 career wins, coached five teams to the Final Four, developed three of the NBA’s Top 50 players, coached in and won arguably the sport’s most important game ever and he also broke down racial barriers in the 1960s that helped the game evolve into what it is today.
Lewis was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, but that’s not the point. The Naismith Hall of Fame is the big fish and Lewis deserves to be there.
Lewis patrolled the sidelines at Hofheinz Pavilion with his trademark red and white checkered towel for 30 seasons. His coaching career began in 1956 and took off in 1964 when he recruited Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney and they helped lead the Cougars to two Final Four appearances.
Lewis was one of the first major college coaches to recruit African-American players and the Cougars success with Hayes and Chaney caused other coaches, especially in the south, to take notice and follow his lead.
“There were no schools in the South, basically, recruiting black athletes,” Hayes said in an Associated Press article. “He paved the way in basketball. You watch LSU, Kentucky, Alabama now, they have all these great black athletes. These schools weren’t even looking at them back then.”
Lewis was also the driving force behind the “Game of the Century” that pitted the No. 2 Cougars against No. 1 UCLA and coaching legend John Wooden. The Cougars won 71-69 as Hayes battled Bruin’s phenom Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It was the first prime time nationally-televised regular season college game and filled the Astrodome with 52,693 spectators — an unprecedented mark at the time.
Lewis’ success continued in the 1980s with UH’s Phi Slamma Jamma teams that reached three straight Final Fours with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Lewis retired after the 1986-87 season.
Hayes, Olajuwon and Drexler are all Hall of Fame inductees and were voted members of the NBA’s Top 50 Players in 1996-97. All three have campaigned for Lewis’ induction. Hayes was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, but has boycotted it since in support of Lewis.
The Naismith Hall of Fame is not like the halls that other sports have. Baseball and football both have halls that deal specifically with the pro leagues. Because the Basketball Hall of Fame encompasses all leagues and levels of basketball accomplishments, the standards for election have always been vague. In baseball, 300 wins, 500 home runs and 3,000 hits usually serve as benchmarks for induction of players. The basketball hall of fame is more subjective. Adrian Dantley is in the hall, but not Bernard King. Van Chancellor is in, but Guy Lewis isn’t. Hortencia Morcari was inducted in 2005. Do you have any idea who that is? No. Nobody knows who that is.
Without honoring Guy V. Lewis, the Naismith Hall of Fame is leaving gaping holes in the story of the game. He was a fan of the dunk at a time when it was not popular. Without him, there is no Game of the Century, there is no Phi Slamma Jamma, maybe Elvin Hayes doesn’t become one of the ten greatest power forwards ever, maybe Hakeem doesn’t become one of the five greatest centers ever, surely African-American players would have populated rosters eventually, but Lewis made that a reality sooner.
It’s a crime for his legacy to not be celebrated and honored. Lewis is an important part of the history of the game of basketball and the Naismith Hall of Fame should reflect that by inducting him.
Lewis did not get enough votes to stay on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2006-07, but will be eligible for election again in 2013.
In an Associated Press article, Drexler put the Hall’s omission in simple terms.
“Guy Lewis is the Dean Smith of the South, and if you don’t put him in, that’s a great disservice to anyone who’s ever picked up a basketball in the South.”