Guy’s night out
Guy V. Lewis can’t walk — he’s confined to a wheelchair — but with the help of family and support of former players and fans, he was able to take another victory lap.
Lewis, UH’s famed former coach, returned to Hofheinz Pavilion on Wednesday for the first time since earning basketball’s highest honor — induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
After former basketball great Larry Micheaux wheeled Lewis past the UH bench as they were followed by former players, the pregame ceremony included special recognition from the University that he helped put on the basketball map, a proclamation from the city that created Guy V. Lewis Day in Houston and the loudest ovation of the season from a full student section.
Fans waved the polka-dot towels that were handed out before the game, and the University president got emotional.
“It is a very special moment with Coach Guy Lewis being here, and it’s just wonderful to see how it’s full tonight,” said President Renu Khator.
“It was so emotional to see all of those players and now to see all of the students in the student (section). I think this can be a golden moment for us if we can just seize on it.”
Though the Cougars couldn’t capture the emotion of the evening with a win and lost to the Cardinals 77-62, the raucous crowd reminded Lewis’ daughter Sherry of the days when UH was the biggest basketball show in town.
“This is cool — all of that excitement out there. I grew up with that kind of excitement,” Sherry said.
“It has been a very exciting last year culminating in this event. I guess we can calm down now.”
Lewis isn’t walking through the door to coach again. When he patrolled the sidelines, he became synonymous with the basketball program that accomplished a lot in his 30 years at the helm.
He guided the Cougars to 27 consecutive winning seasons en route to winning 592 games, made five trips to the Final Four and recruited three of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time — Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Elvin Hayes — to play their college ball at UH.
Lewis was one of the first major college coaches to recruit African-American players in the South, and the Cougars’ success forced other coaches to follow his lead. He led UH to five appearances in the Final Four, including three straight with Phi Slama Jama, the Cougars’ most famous “fraternity.”
Lewis was one of the driving forces behind the “Game of the Century,” which helped usher in the television era of college basketball. The game pitted the No. 2 Cougars against No. 1 UCLA and coaching legend John Wooden. UH defeated UCLA 71-69 after Hayes outdueled Bruins great Lew Alcindor, who became Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It was Lewis’ idea to fill the Astrodome with more than 50,000 fans for the first nationally televised regular season game.
Nearly 30 years after he recruited his last class to UH in 1986, his players still appreciate how he helped them personally and professionally.
“It’s so unique because we’ve had a lot of great players here, but when we get together, especially for an event like this, it’s not about us and what we accomplished,” said former player Otis Birdsong. “It’s about Coach Lewis. He taught all of us.”
Even alumnus Larry Green, who became a city councilman, remembers that Lewis’ impact was bigger than basketball.
“Guy V. Lewis is an icon to the city of Houston. And firstly, as a UH grad, it’s an honor to me to come to present this proclamation,” Green said. “I was at UH during the Phi Slama Jama days. What he has done for the city and African-Americans in basketball and collegiate basketball, I think he deserves his own day in Houston.”