SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – NBA and University of Houston basketball legend Elvin Hayes had a self-imposed ban on attending any events associated with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. until his Houston coach Guy V. Lewis was enshrined in the Hall of Fame with him.
As of Sunday, the ban is over. They are in the Hall together. Lewis was among 12 players, coaches, and administrators enshrined Sunday in the Basketball Hall of Fame in ceremonies at historic Symphony Hall in downtown Springfield.
Lewis, 91, frail from health issues including a stroke, was brought to the stage in a wheelchair but with a broad smile across his face. He was joined on stage by Hayes and fellow Houston Cougars and Hall of Fame players Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
“He’s responsible for shaping young adults into men. And there’s not a better coach in the world or mentor than Guy Lewis,” said Drexler. “To see him take his place among the giants here at the Hall of Fame is a great day for everyone who knew him, who has ever been a fan of college basketball, and the city of Houston. Here’s a guy, one of the greatest coaches of all time, should have been in the Hall of Fame maybe 30 years ago, but better late than never right?”
“In my book it’s been a long time ago,” said Olajuwon of his belief that Lewis has always been worthy of the honor. “Now it’s just been official.”
Lewis ended his 30-year coaching career at the University of Houston with 592 wins, 14 NCAA tournament appearances, five Final Fours and two NCAA Finals appearances. He produced 10 NBA 1st round picks and has had 29 of his players in the NBA.
He is credited with introducing college basketball to a national television audience with the “Game of the Century” at the Houston Astrodome in 1968 where the Cougars ended UCLA’s historic winning streak. And with players like Don Chaney and Hayes, the first black players at the University of Houston, he is credited with being one of the driving forces behind integrating the college game.
Hayes likes to tell the story of the day in 1964 when Guy Lewis drove to tiny Rayville, La. to drive him to Houston. Lewis placed him in the backseat of his car next to Lewis’ own daughter and son.
Hayes said he was more than nervous: in Louisiana at that time he wasn’t allowed to sit next to a white girl. This was one year after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And Hayes says that when he crossed the Louisiana/Texas line he considered that his own “free at last” moment.
“He just truly embraced me and made me a great player and made my dreams come true,” said Hayes. “I just love him so much and his family. And this is such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful career topping for him because he deserves to be here.”
“He’s very happy. He’s smiling,” said Olajuwon. “He’s smiling. And that smile says it all.”
“It was moving it really was. The ovation. The standing O,” Lewis’ daughter Sherry Lewis said of the lengthy applause her father received when he was brought on stage along with Hayes, Drexel and Olajuwon. “I was just blown away by that. I mean because he deserves it.”