Charlie Neibergall, File, Associated Press
HOUSTON — Elvin Hayes hasn't visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame since his induction in 1990, and he even turns down invitations to attend special events affiliated with it.
The former University of Houston star will only end his boycott if his college coach is enshrined, but there's no guarantee that day will ever come.
Guy V. Lewis will be passed over again when a new class of inductees is announced before Monday's national championship game in New Orleans. Many of his former players, including Hayes, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, have unsuccessfully campaigned for their coach for years, and their frustration builds with each passing year.
"It's a sad situation," Hayes said, "because when I look at the people they put in the hall, and then look at coach, and what he accomplished, it just doesn't make any sense to me."
Television sportscaster Jim Nantz, a Houston alumnus and a recipient of the hall's Curt Gowdy award, has also gotten involved, writing letters to members of the voting committees on behalf of Lewis, who turned 90 on March 19.
"He's qualified in a million different directions," Nantz said in a phone interview. "It's been hanging over his head for a long time."
Lewis has never lobbied much for himself, true to his humble personality, according to Drexler and Lewis' daughter, Sherry. Now in a wheelchair and in poor health, Lewis no longer does interviews. But Sherry Lewis provided a statement from her father in an email sent to The Associated Press.
"I appreciate the interest," Guy Lewis said about his exclusion from the hall. "It has not bothered me; it bothers my family."
It's certainly irked his ex-players, and they say his body of work makes the compelling case for him.
Often clutching a red polka-dot towel during games, Lewis won 592 times across 30 seasons in Houston and guided the Cougars to 14 NCAA tournaments and five Final Fours. Houston's high-flying "Phi Slama Jama" teams of the 1980s made three consecutive Final Fours between1982-84, losing in two championship games.
The 1983 loss to North Carolina State is considered one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. It's a glaring stain on his resume, but his former players don't think it's the reason he's been left out.
"His statistics speak for themselves," Olajuwon said. "He should be in there. One game should not measure an entire career."
The Cougars lost when Lorenzo Charles snagged Dereck Whittenburg's airball and dunked it just before the final buzzer. Not even Whittenburg thinks that game should overshadow the rest of Lewis' accomplishments.
"Of course, one of the criteria is winning championships," said Whittenburg, now an ESPN analyst. "But he's got such a legacy. Before that game, we (N.C. State) understood what he did with that Houston program, what a team that was."
Whittenburg is involved in making a film about that game, due to be completed by next year. He says the first step in getting Lewis into the Hall of Fame is spreading word of mouth.
"He needs to get into the conversation, then they'll look at the facts," Whittenburg said. "This is an opportune time. The 30th anniversary is next year. There's no better time than now."
Lewis was also the visionary behind the groundbreaking "Game of the Century," persuading John Wooden to bring Lew Alcindor and top-ranked UCLA to play No. 2 Houston at the Astrodome in January 1968. The Cougars' 71-69 upset of the Bruins was the first nationally televised regular-season game and drew the largest crowd to witness an indoor basketball game (52,693), a record that stood for three decades.
Hayes had 39 point and 15 rebounds in the landmark game, that opened the era of domed stadiums as venues for the Final Four. Hayes says Lewis' impact on the game's history may be more significant than his record.
"It's one of those things that's totally wrong," Hayes said. "People, I think, today only see what's before their eyes. But people really don't go back anymore and ask, 'Well, who made this game into what it is today? Who changed this game? Who put his footprint on this game?'
"Coach had this vision," Hayes said, "a vision for the game of basketball."
Lewis was also one of the first coaches in the South to embrace racial integration in the 1960s. He made Hayes and Don Chaney the first black players to suit up for Houston two years before Texas Western coach Don Haskins beat Kentucky with an all-black starting lineup in the famous 1966 NCAA championship game.
Hayes and Chaney became cornerstones for Lewis' first two Final Four teams, in 1967 and '68.
"There were no schools in the South, basically, recruiting black athletes," Hayes said. "He paved the way in basketball. You watch LSU, Kentucky, Alabama now, they have all these great black athletes. These schools weren't even looking at them back then."
Hall of Fame bylaws have kept Lewis off the ballot since 2007.
The Springfield, Mass., hall says Lewis was last nominated in 1999. Once nominated, candidates must earn a majority vote in one of two screening committees. If successful, a candidate's credentials are then advanced to a 24-member Honors Committee, where the candidate must receive at least 18 votes to be approved for enshrinement.
If a candidate goes three straight years without passing through one of the initial screening committees, the candidate becomes ineligible for induction for the next five years. The hall says Lewis did not receive enough voter support between 2005-07 and was subsequently dropped from future ballots.
Lewis' five years are up, and he'll be eligible for induction into the class of 2013.
"Guy Lewis is the Dean Smith of the South, and if you don't put him in, that's a great disservice to anyone who's ever picked up a basketball in the South," said Drexler, who was inducted in 2004.
Lewis did earn induction into the newer College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, the year after it was established in Kansas City, Mo.
Nantz credits Lewis for giving him his start in television by letting the then-junior host the coach's weekly show in Houston in the late 1970s. Nearly four decades later, he fears that the adamant support to get Lewis into the hall may be working against his candidacy.
"We are all outraged, but sometimes, I think it takes away from people saying, 'He did this, he accomplished this, he did that,'" Nantz said. "The sentiment is so strong that, I think we're pushing for him so hard, that we talk about what he didn't get, as opposed to what he did get."
Michael Young, a forward on the '83 squad and now the program's director of basketball operations, said he believes the exclusion has nagged at Lewis over the years.
"If you know Coach Lewis, you would look at him and if you didn't know him, you would never know what he was thinking," Young said. "His players could tell, though, that this was wearing on him and wearing on him. I think that's a terrible thing."
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