Phi Slama Jama Remembered.

Akeem Olajuwon (34) & Clyde Drexler (22) Both Became Top 50 NBA Greats.

When the featured photo of today’s article on the University of Houston Cougars was taken during the 1982-84 run of Phi Slama Jama, Hakeem was missing an “H” in his first name and Clyde had a lot more hair on his later famous bald pate. Olajuwon was two to three years into his pro career as a Houston Rocket before he bothered to correct the media that his first name was spelled “Hakeem” and not “Akeem.” Clyde’s hair style change simply ook care of itself with the help of time and Mother Nature.

Houston Post sportswriter Tommy Bonk gave those great UH men’s basketball teams of the early 80’s the nickname of Phi Slama Jama in an article he wrote about the team on January 6, 1983. It caught on like a gasoline fire as a description of the basketball winning conflagration that rolled on behind Olajuwon, Drexler, and their brethren in the World’s Tallest Fraternity. By the 1983-84 season, with Drexler already gone early to Portland of the NBA, the Cougars were even wearing Phi Slama Jama stitched into their uniform game jackets. The sky seemed to be their only limit and Coach Guy V. Lewis seemed a shoo-in for the National Basketball Hall of Fame.

The Cougars made it to the Final Four all three years of their roaring reign, but never quite got to the brass ring on the NCAA marry-go-round. In 1982, the Coogs lost to North Carolina and Michael Jordan in the semi-finals. Then came 1983 and the national championship that got away. The Cougars led North Carolina State most of the way in the low-scoring final game of the NCAA tournament at Albuquerque, but a late decision by Coach Lewis to hold onto the ball and an eight-point lead backfired. There was no shot clock in 1983 and teams could sit on the ball all night if they had both the ability and the will to do so.

Th Cougar effort backfired when the Jim Valvano-coached Wolf Pack fouled the errant shooting Cougars into surrendering the lead with missed shots at the free throw line. Then, with time running out and the game tied at 50-50, NCS inbounded a pass that Lorenzo Charles stuffed to take a 52-50 championship victory right out of Houston’s expected grasp. The UH Cougars lost their most famous bid for a national basketball championship. The Cougar loss in 1983 also halted a 26-game winning streak and left UH with a final record for 1982-83 of 26-2. The way they lost, unfairly or not, has so far been the factor that has kept a career-record deserving Coach Guy V. Lewis out of the Hall of Fame. As a Cougar alum, it makes me sick to even think about the far-reaching pain of the NC State loss and its long-range bearing on UH.

Clyde Drexler left the Cougars early after 1983, but Olajuwon was quickly joined by fellow All American star Michael Young for a return to the Final game in 1984. This time, however, the contest was not so close as the Cougars went down at the hands of Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas. Still, the Cougars were there for three years in a row. Other than UCLA, not many other university clubs can make the same claim.

I was reminded of Phi Slama Jama by the Houston Cougars’ victory over the UTEP Miners in the final game Saturday of the Conference USA tournament. Now playing under Coach Tom Penders, the Coogs had to win games for four days in a row to pull it off, with that final 81-73 win over UTEP giving UH their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1992.

These Cougars are not to be confused with Phi Slama Jama, but they are quick, they are spirited, they hustle, they ride their hearts hard, they play as a team of brothers, and they never give up. It will be of passionate interest to Cougar fans to see how far UH goes from here in the tournament. No one is expecting a 19-15 club with a closing conference tourney table run of four wins to take the national championship, but it will be fun preparation for next season to find out how much gas they have left in the tank for this year’s business.

Aubrey Coleman of UH is the nation's top NCAA men's basketball scorer for 2010.

The nation’s leading scorer, Aubrey Coleman, had an off-day for UH Saturday with only 13 points, but teammate Kelvin Lewis lit up the UTEP Miners at the Tulsa-site tournament court with a 28 point contribution to pick up the offensive slack for his basketball brother.

UH 2010 may not be close to Phi Slama Jama by attribution, but they are doing pretty well since Coach Penders dubbed them as the “DMW” (Dead Men Walking) team in Game One of the tourney, These Cougars are a “Band of Brothers.” They may not win again this season, but who knows? The DMW gang has had  nothing more to lose since losing a week ago last Saturday to a 9-20 Tulane club in the final game of the regular season.

For the record, the UH miracle run played out this way in four consecutive days:

Wed., March 10: UH 93 – East Carolina 80.

Thu., March 11: UH 66 – Memphis 65.

Fri., March 12: UH 74 – Southern Miss 66.

Sat., March 13: UH 81 – UTEP 73.

As a result of this week’s hard-earned miracle win in the C-USA championship tournament, all things are now possible. The Cougars have won for themselves a NCAA tourney dance card as a 2010 Cinderella club. And you’re never a pumpkin in this old world until you start turning orange and soggy.

Wait a minute! I’m feeling something! – How’s my complexion?

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3 Responses to “Phi Slama Jama Remembered.”

  1. Bob Hulsey Says:

    Congrats to the Cougars and to coach Penders. If Tom knows anything, it is how to produce a fun brand of basketball. Since Texas is a sure one-and-done, I’ll be rooting for the Cougars to advance as far as possible.

    And damn that Lorenzo Charles!

  2. Bill McCurdy Says:

    “Bill:
    I enjoyed your article about PHI SLAMA JAMA. A great Injustice to Coach Lewis no Hall of Fame!!! I think the greatest sporting event ever was the U of H versus UCLA in the Dome. I was so hipped I had a head ache for two weeks. I don’t know if you were there or not, but every time U of H scored the crowd went wild. It was like a team in the Super Bowl scoring a touchdown. The crowd was that wild.
    Good article.” – John Wendell Mason, England

    I was there, John. The date was January 20, 1968 in the Elvin Hayes pre-PSJ era.The Cougars defeated UCLA, 71-69, before 51,000 people in the Astrodome. It was largest crowd to ever see a basketball game to that point in time and it is remembered today as the game that changed the game.

  3. David Munger Says:

    What a great , improbable , run by THE COOGS.
    They received a pretty good seed in THE TOURNEY.

    Every single time I see a replay of the U of H-NC State
    game I get sick to my stomach and I’m an LSU ALUM.

    It’s sad what THE BASKETBALL HALL OF SHAME is doing to
    GUY V.

    Thanks for the memory-I Think

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