Published April 09, 2013
HOUSTON – Ninety-one-year-old Guy Lewis has difficulty speaking because of recent strokes.
But the huge grin on the face of the former Houston coach Tuesday conveyed his elation at finally being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame a day before.
Lewis coached the Cougars for 30 years, but is best known for leading the Phi Slama Jama teams in the 1980s.
"It's pure joy and we're not even upset that it took so long ... dad is used to winning in overtime," his daughter Sherry Lewis said.
The event was attended by former player Elvin Hayes, a fellow Hall of Famer. Hayes had campaigned for Lewis's election and boycotted all events related to the Hall since his induction in 1990 because Lewis hadn't received the honor.
"That was a great wrong done and all of the sudden, it's right," Hayes said. "And once it's right, it doesn't even make any difference what happened in the past."
Lewis sat in a wheelchair by his daughter while she answered questions on his behalf. Wearing a red cable knit sweater and a red-and-white Houston hat, Lewis smiled and laughed often during the event where he was presented with red roses and sat near the several trophies he earned while coaching the Cougars.
"I'm just glad he gets to be back in Hofheinz," Sherry said of the pavilion where the Cougars play. "He's just so at peace now and happy."
Lewis finished his career at Houston with a 592-279 record. His teams made five Final Four appearances, including three in a row from 1982-84. He reached the NCAA tournament 14 times and captured six Southwest Conference titles. He helped the Cougars to 27 straight winning seasons from 1959-85 and was named national coach of the year in 1968 and 1983.
Along with Hayes, he also coached fellow All-Americans Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The three players were named to the NBA's Top 50 greatest players list in 1996. He and North Carolina's Dean Smith are the only men to coach three players from that list while they were in college.
"We can give him credit for his great accomplishments, 592 wins and all that, but he's won more players over and made them believe and made them successful men than he has victories," said Lynden Rose, who was a part of the great teams in the 1980s.
Lewis is also known for putting together the "Game of the Century" at the Astrodome in 1968 between Houston and UCLA. It was the first regular-season game to be broadcast on national television. Houston defeated the Bruins in front of a crowd of more than 52,000 which, at that time, was the largest ever to watch an indoor basketball game.
He also helped with the integration of college basketball in the South by recruiting Hayes and Don Chaney to Houston. They were the first black players for the Cougars and some of the first in the region.
He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.
"Basketball in the state of Texas and throughout the South is all due to coach Guy V. Lewis," Hayes said. "He put everything on the line to step out and integrate his program. Not only that, he had vision to say: 'Hey, we can play a game in the Houston Astrodome.' Not only that, he just was such a motivator and such an innovator that created so many doors for the game of basketball to grow."
If Lewis was upset about being snubbed by the Hall for so many years, he never showed it. While his friends, relatives and former players railed against his exclusion, he had said in the past that it never bothered him.
His supporters were happy he was still around to celebrate the moment.
"When you're 91, good news is always great news," Rose said. "We were happy because the sentiment became, would it happen while he was alive?"
Lewis understands everything going on around him, but suffers from aphasia due to his strokes, which makes it hard for him to convey his thoughts into words.
"He knows what he wants to say, I just kind of have to guess," Sherry said. "He's still Guy Lewis in there."
He will be enshrined into the Hall on Sept. 8 in Springfield, Mass. Sherry said that they haven't yet decided if he'll be able to make the trip or who will deliver his speech there.