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Thursday, November 15, 2018

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‘Texas’ Tallest Fraternity’: Looking back at the Phi Slama Jama years


Hakeem Block

For three years, Hakeem Olajuwon served as a defensive and offensive weapon in the post for the Cougars, known for his thundering dunks and blocking everything that came his way. | Courtesy of Houstonian

The UH athletics program is one of the most storied in the country, boasting a long, rich history of signature moments, players and achievements. Over the next few weeks, the Cougar staff will be taking a look back at some of the marque seasons that made the program into what it is today.


In the early 1980’s, men’s basketball garnered local and national notoriety behind the skills, athleticism and antics of some of the greatest basketball players in the Cougars’ history, dubbed the “Phi Slama Jama”.

From 1982 to 1984, the team, led by head coach Guy V. Lewis, wowed the sports-world with their slam dunks and explosive, fast-breaking style of play.

During an era of fundamentally polished and methodical style, dunking the basketball was viewed by many as flamboyant and unsportsmanlike.

Notable members of the basketball fraternity included Michael Young, Larry Micheaux, Lynden Rose, Reid Gettys, Ricky Winslow and Greg Anderson. They all went on to have solid professional careers.

But, the pillars to the team were future NBA Hall-of-Famers Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon.

Phi Slama Jama however, bucked tradition and not only utilized dunking, but thrived on it, employing fast, playground-style basketball that emphasized athleticism over the fundamentals.

Their exciting brand of basketball was captivating even to casual fans and not only entertained audiences but helped UH dominate on the court.

During their reign, Phi Slama Jama enjoyed unprecedented success, often dominating their competition on their way to an 88-16 record, three straight Final Four appearances and two trips to the NCAA Championship game.

The team became a national phenomenon overnight and much of that success had to do with the talent – most of which was home-grown.

Together, “Texas’ Tallest Fraternity” made Hofheinz Pavilion an intimidating venue for the opposition and one of the most entertaining places in Houston.

The peak of the Phi Slama Jama era came on April 2, 1983, when UH was ranked the top team in the country and met the University of Louisville Cardinals in the Final Four semifinals, where the Cougars dethroned “The Doctors of Dunk” in a memorable semi-final.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, the game that many remember the most was their first national championship appearance two days later, when the Cougars fell to the upstart North Carolina State Wolfpack, in what is considered one of the greatest NCAA Tournament finales in history.

Though the team did return to the NCAA Championship game again in 1984, the loss of Drexler and Micheaux to the NBA draft proved too much for the squad to overcome, and the Phi Slama Jama era at UH came to an end without a national title.

After the 1984 season, the two remaining lynch-pin players, Young and Olajuwon, both headed to the NBA.

Two years later, Lewis retired from coaching, with his 592-279 record giving him a .680 career winning percentage and the No. 20 spot in the all-time NCAA Division I victories list.

Though Phi Slama Jama may always be remembered as one of the greatest teams to never win a championship, they were much more than that.

The way they played the game revolutionized basketball, not only at the collegiate level, but the professional level.

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