Mr. Speaker, Thanksgiving is meant to remind us of all the things in our lives we're grateful for. For many, this year's Thanksgiving came and went in its usual form: spent in the presence of loved ones and those who are closest to our hearts. But for others, this Thanksgiving was spent under a bittersweet shadow. Early that morning, Houstonians, Cougar alumni, basketball fans, and many others bid farewell to a legend: Guy Lewis.
Guy Lewis was more than just a basketball coach. His innovations, both on and off the court, left ripples in our society that we still feel today. He was born in a tiny town in East Texas, where he lived until enlisting in the Army during World War II. Following the war, Lewis enrolled at the University of Houston, my alma mater, and joined the basketball team. He was instantly one of the best players on the team, averaging over 21 points per game as he led the Cougars to a conference championship. After college he worked as an assistant coach at UH under then-coach Alden Pasche. After Pasche's retirement in 1956, Lewis was appointed the new head coach of the Cougars; and the rest, as they say, is history.
Under Lewis' 30-year watch, the Cougars enjoyed one of the best spells in collegiate basketball history. He led his teams to 27 straight winning seasons, 14 NCAA tournament appearances, 5 Final Fours, and two NCAA title games. Though he never won a national title, he is still universally recognized as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. Despite all of his successes on the court, it was his actions off the court that many use to define Coach Lewis' lasting legacy.
Prior to Guy Lewis, the University of Houston had never had an African-American player in its basketball program. According to former All-American, NBA All-Star, and member of Houston's first desegregated basketball team, Elvin Hayes, Lewis ``put everything on the line to step out and integrate his program.'' It was trailblazing like this and his fearless attitude that set Coach Lewis apart from the rest. Guy Lewis didn't care about what people thought, but he cared about doing what was right for his players and his school. He dedicated 40 years to the university as a student and as a coach, from his first day of college in 1946 through his last day as a coach in 1986. Even after his retirement Lewis was heavily involved with the school and its athletic department. His dedication to the institution he called home, the institution he helped evolve for the better, never once wavered.
I remember sitting in the stands of the Astrodome in 1968 watching the ``Game of the Century'' that Coach Lewis helped organize. The undefeated UCLA Bruins, led by legendary coach John Wooden, came into the game riding a 47-game winning streak. This was the first nationally televised regular season collegiate basketball game in the history of the sport. Over 52,000 fans--myself included--went to the game, which set the record for the largest basketball crowd in history. I remember that game fondly. I can still see Coach Lewis on the sideline waving his red, polka-dotted towel that he seemed to always have with him. Led by the previously mentioned Elvin Hayes, the Houston Cougars went on to win 71-69.
After coaching the Cougars to back-to-back Final Fours in 1967 and '68, he then guided his team to a trio of Final Fours in 1982, '83, and '84. Those teams, known simply as ``Phi Slama Jama,'' featured superstars Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, two members of both the NCAA and NBA Halls of Fame. Those teams emphasized a fast-paced, exciting style of play that helped revolutionize the game forever.
When remembering Coach Lewis, we needn't just remember the legendary wins or the legendary players that he coached, but also his integrity and dedication. Whether it was his innovative work on the court or off, all of us familiar with the life of Coach Lewis have nothing but fond memories of the man. His legacy will live on.
And that's just the way it is.