Former sports editor: ‘It’s about time’ Lewis made the Hall of Fame
At long last, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame got the memo — they have decided the countless accomplishments of former UH basketball coach Guy V. Lewis are worth honoring.
The committee has enshrined active coaches like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and will induct Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Both are fantastic coaches, and have already had Hall of Fame-worthy careers. But their body of work isn’t complete.
It’s about time they decided to recognize a retired coach who demonstrated the same level of excellence, albeit several decades too late.
But this moment — this topic — should no longer be about chastising the Hall of Fame’s befuddling process. It’s time to celebrate one of the most revered names in the history of our university.
As obvious as Lewis’ achievements are, it is his bravery as a barrier breaker that deserves praise.
In a time of steep racial tension, he chose to make a revolutionary decision and recruit African-American players to a university in the South, helping to change the sport forever.
Significant, nationally-televised college basketball games hosted in colossal domes are an annual ritual. Lewis played a key role in establishing that often-duplicated model. The 1968 “Game of the Century” against UCLA is how it is remembered, and it is just another of Lewis’ permanent stamps on the game.
When looking at the all-time list of Final Four appearances by school, UH is close to the top with five. All five were when Lewis was coach.
That ties with four other universities, two of which were in this year’s Final Four – Michigan and Syracuse. But unlike Michigan, there are no asterisks associated with the Cougars’ appearances. There were no scandals, sanctions or scholarship reductions during Lewis’ tenure.
In a hypothetical scenario in which Lewis was still in the NCAA ranks, he would be in the same breath as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky coach John Calipari. He could attract the same level of talent. Instead of being a glorified NBA training ground and renting players for a few months, Lewis would develop those phenoms into mature and polished student athletes.
To Lewis’ credit, he and his family never complained, no matter how many times he was snubbed by the Hall of Fame. We can thank some of his elite former players like Clyde Drexler and the current staff at the Athletics Department for turning up the rhetoric so much that this cause could no longer go unheard.
I wasn’t alive during the heyday of Phi Slama Jama, and that’s fine. I never interviewed or met Coach Lewis during my time working at The Daily Cougar, and I don’t have to.
You don’t have to be a firsthand witness to understand the greatness of the Lewis era. It takes a minimal amount of research to know that if you were a fan, you wanted to watch UH’s slam-dunking brand of hoops. If you were a player, then you wanted to play for Lewis at Hofheinz Pavilion.
The induction of Lewis solidifies what many of us already know — Houston isn’t just a great city, it’s a great basketball town, too, thanks in large part to the legacy of Guy V. Lewis.