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What is Phi Slama Jama? Remembering Houston’s high-flying 1980s teams, legendary players

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The memory of Phi Slama Jama will be passed on to another generation when Houston takes on Baylor in a Final Four national semifinal Saturday in Indianapolis.  

The phrase was coined by Houston Post columnist Thomas Bonk during the Cougars’ run to three consecutive Final Four appearances from 1982-84. Those teams, coached by Guy Lewis, produced Hall of Fame players such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, not to mention some of the most memorable moments in NCAA Tournament history. 

Here is everything you need to know about Phi Slama Jama:  

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Who coached Phi Slama Jama?  

Guy Lewis coached the Cougars for 11 seasons from 1956-86, and he led the program to five Final Four appearances. The Cougars made back-to-back appearances in 1967-68 with two-time All-American Elvin Hayes. 

The program peaked, however, during the Phi Slama Years from 1981-84. Houston was 88-16 over that three-year stretch with a 42-16 record in Southwest Conference play. The Cougars reached the Final Four in three consecutive seasons. 

Phi Slama Jama players

In 2011, Bleacher Report ranked Houston’s 1982-83 team as the third-best starting five lineup of all time. That’s because it featured two members of the Basketball Hall of Fame.  

Hakeem Olajuwon, a 7-0 center, was a member of all three teams. He averaged 13.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks for his college career. “The Dream” went on to be a No. 1 overall pick and two-time NBA champion with the Rockets. 

Houston Athetlics https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/75/7e/hakeem-olajuwon-040221-uh-ftrjpg_1iyueg7h3z8ar14l77en64d2pd.jpg?t=-1882109936&w=500&quality=80

Clyde Drexler, a 6-7 forward, starred on the 1982 and 1983 Final Four teams. Drexler averaged 14.4 points per game. “The Glide” was an NBA champion with the Rockets in 1995 (Olajuwon was on that team, too) and a member of the 1992 Dream Team. He returned to coach Houston from 1998 to 2000.  

Other NBA players included Michael Young, a member of all three teams; Rob Williams, Larry Micheaux, Rickie Winslow and Greg Anderson.  

Reid Gettys, Alvin Franklin and Dave Rose were role players during the Phi Slama Jama era, and Benny Anders — a 6-5, 200-pound forward — was a fan favorite and a key figure in the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary “Phi Slama Jama.” 

Why were they called Phi Slama Jama?  

The Cougars played an up-tempo style that produced 78.8 points per game through that three-year stretch, and they did that with the slam dunk.  

Houston Post columnist Thomas Bonk coined the term “Phi Slama Jama” after the Cougars routed Pacific 112-58 on Jan. 2, 1983. Their popularity soared from there, and the team became a cult phenomenon through the 1983-84 season.  

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Did Phi Slama Jama win a national title?  

No. Houston suffered three consecutive losses in the Final Four from 1982-84. A look at those games:  

No. 1 North Carolina 68, No. 6 Houston (March 27, 1982)  

The Tar Heels — who went on to win the national championship under coach Dean Smith — outlasted the Cougars in a Final Four national semifinal at the New Orleans Superdome. Sam Perkins scored 25 points, and James Worthy and Michael Jordan had 18 and 14 points, respectively. North Carolina limited Williams, Houston’s leading scorer, to two points on 0-of-8 shooting.   

No. 6 N.C. State 54, No. 1 Houston 52 (April 4, 1983) 

In one of the most memorable upsets of all time, Jim Valvano led the Wolfpack past the Cougars in a national championship thriller at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. Drexler ran into foul trouble in the first half, and N.C. State withstood a 20-point, 18-rebound performance from Olajuwon. The Wolfpack won on Lorenzo Charles’ last-second dunk.  

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No. 1 Georgetown 84, No. 2 Houston 75 (April 2, 1984) 

Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing clashed in a dynamic matchup of centers in a national championship game at the Kingdome in Seattle. Olajuwon had 15 points and nine boards, while Ewing had 10 points and nine boards. Five Hoyas scored in double figures and Georgetown won the national championship under coach John Thompson.  

What is Phi Slama Jama’s legacy? 

Those Houston teams are among the best teams to never win a national championship, and the Cougars’ run ended the year before the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams.  

Houston is one of 10 schools to reach the Final Four in three consecutive seasons, but eight of those schools won national championships. UCLA (2006-08) is the only other school to pull off that feat without winning the national title.  

Now, Houston is in the Final Four for the first time since 1984, and that will bring those memories back. 

What do we remember most about Phi Slama Jama? It’s best to just watch 15 minutes of dunks:  

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