A Call from Hall Overdue for Lewis
The other night, Guy V. Lewis answered the phone at his home, then asked a writer if he would mind calling back. He did this in an almost plaintive way, because Lewis is among the most accommodating of people.
From the Houston Chronicle, March 21, 2001
by Mickey Herskowitz
"I'm watching The Fugitive," he explained, "and it only has seven or eight minutes to go."
The symbolism was almost over the top. This is the time of year when the ballots are cast, or the results announced, for however many halls of fame are out there. And you realize that the true purpose of sport is to keep in business the companies that make trophies, plaques and punch bowls.
These votes are invaluable because they provide us with an endless source of second-guessing. At or near the top of this list is the absence of Guy Lewis from the Basketball Hall of Fame.
He hasn't tried to avoid this recognition, although he hasn't lobbied for it either. You conclude that the former University of Houston coach might as well be a fugitive. The voters have been unable to track him down, although his record is out there for all to see, and his number was listed in the phone book.
What must a Guy do?
There is something almost bizarre about the very notion that the record of Lewis, who spoon-fed the Cougars into a national power, needs to be defended.
You suspect Guy is being punished for taking the Cougars to five Final Fours without winning a national championship. It is an oversight Lewis surely regrets. But contending for the title five times -- and losing the championship game twice -- is a monumental achievement, not a scandal. A bounce, a call, a few inches more or a minute less, and there would be no argument.
You can be great and still finish second. Look at Alydar. Or Dan Marino. Ben Franklin was never elected president, but his picture is on the $100 bill.
Lewis was a great coach because he won in different eras with different material. He won with fast teams and slow, short teams and tall. He won with teams that were all white and teams that were mostly black. The Cougars played run-and-gun, and they played to the tempo of the Vienna Waltz. And they kept on winning.
Meanwhile, Lewis was sending players like Gary Phillips, Elvin Hayes, Don Chaney, Dwight Jones, Otis Birdsong, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon to the pros.
Two or three coaches in the NBA found Hayes difficult to handle. They blamed it on Lewis, who handled him beautifully. Guy's patience with Olajuwon, who came to him as a 7-foot soccer player, was the making of Hakeem's career.
Lewis' 1967-68 team won 31 games in a row and defeated UCLA and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Astrodome in one of the greatest games ever seen.
He came out of the garden city of Arp, Texas, as Guy Vernon Lewis. In Houston, we thought the "V" stood for victory. He was the second coach the Cougars ever had and played under the first, Alden Pasche. Guy returned from World War II to open the 1946 season as a 6-3 center.
No coach was ever more true to his school. He confounded his critics for 30 years and 586 wins and, confound it, that ought to be enough to qualify for a place in the Hall of Fame.
Give the man his props
UH's Bill Yeoman hasn't scaled the wall in football, and Oklahoma fans will quickly point out Barry Switzer hasn't either. As a member of the honors court for college football, the code prevents us from arguing their cases in print. With no such attachment in basketball, we remain free to express our puzzlement over the neglect of Guy Lewis.
Like most coaches, Lewis was a nervous creature who needed certain props to keep him in contact with the planet Earth. For years, a student manager was assigned to keep 12 cups filled with water in a cooler next to the Houston bench. Chewing on his red-polka-dot towels kept Guy thirsty.
At halftime of a close game against TCU, Lewis lectured his players and sent them back out to the floor. For reasons related to his consumption of water, Guy did not go with them. The team manager locked the door behind him.
When the Cougars lined up to start the second half, a quick glance at the bench told them they were a team without a coach. Meanwhile, the manager was refilling his paper cups when he heard a fearful racket coming from the Houston dressing room 50 feet away.
He walked over to the door and hesitated, as people do when they hear a strange noise coming from a room that should be empty. "Coach," he asked, "is that you?"
"Hail yes," roared Lewis in his East Texas twang. "Now get me out of here."
Rare indeed was the day anyone needed to go looking for Guy V. Lewis. We ought to be able to find him, right now, in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Last Updated on 4/12/01
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