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Houston is back in the Final Four, primed to end a streak of truly bad luck

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INDIANAPOLIS — They danced, they laughed, Kelvin Sampson gave his kids hugs. Houston was one band of happy Cougars to be back in the Final Four this week. Of course, the program has been there before, quite some time ago.

It didn’t end well.

Five times it didn’t end well. In fact, you could make the case that few programs have had a more star-crossed Final Four history than Houston, which now has a chance to vastly improve on that situation. Illinois and Oklahoma are the only other schools who have been to as many as five Final Fours and are yet to win a title. If the current Cougars lose next weekend, they will stand alone at six.

Houston beat Oregon State in the Elite Eight

And it’s just not the record, but how it’s happened. They have had meaty roles for two of the most famous Final Four games in history — as the victims. In their five past trips they somehow managed to run into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar . . . and Michael Jordan . . . and Patrick Ewing. A wall of Hall of Famers for Houston to beat its collective heads against.

But let’s start at the beginning.

1967 — Timing is everything, and the Cougars didn’t have it. They advanced to their first Final Four and who should be waiting for them but one of the greatest teams in history; unbeaten UCLA with Lew Alcindor – later Abdul-Jabbar — in his first season of steamrolling college basketball.

The Houston players had an idea of what they were in for the day prior to the game, when they were sitting in their hotel lobby pretty much to themselves and in strolled the Bruins, surrounded by a gaggle of fans and media. UCLA arrived like rock stars, while the Cougars, Don Chaney would say years later, “felt like country bumpkins.”

The next day, Alcindor had 19 points and 20 rebounds and UCLA breezed to a 15-point victory.

1968 — Houston ended UCLA’s 47-game winning streak by two points in the Astrodome in a made-for-TV January spectacular that was instantly billed The Game of the Century. Two months later they were together again in the Final Four in Los Angeles, with the Cougars unbeaten and No. 1 and the Bruins with only that one loss. It was the rematch everyone wanted, and the nation settled back to watch college basketball’s version of Frazier vs. Ali.

What the nation got was more like an accountant vs. Ali. The first bad sign for Houston was when its student manager – selling leftover tickets from the team allotment outside the arena as coach Guy Lewis had requested – was arrested by LA police, taken to jail and charged with scalping.

It wasn’t any more pleasant inside the building for the players. Alcindor had a scratched cornea in the January meeting but was at full speed for the rematch, and he and the rest of the Bruins had a message to send. It ended 101-69. Houston star Elvin Hayes, who had vexed the Bruins with 39 points in January, was held to 10, nearly 28 points under his average.

Lewis called it then “the greatest exhibition of basketball I have ever seen in my life.” A lot of people could say that.

1982 — More than 61,000 people were in the Superdome audience when Houston took on North Carolina, which included stars such as Sam Perkins and James Worthy, and a freshman named Jordan. As was their custom back then, the Tar Heels got the lead and then four-cornered the Cougars into oblivion, 68-63.

1983 — The one that haunts the most. Phi Slama Jama was all the rage, as the high-flying Cougars soared into the national championship game by beating Louisville in a 94-81 dunkathon in the semifinals. The media immediately dubbed that game 21st century basketball, and all that was left for No. 1 Houston was to finish off a 10-loss team from North Carolina State that barely eked into the tournament.

The Wolfpack dictated a slow tempo in this pre-shot clock era, but the Cougars put together a 17-2 run for a late seven-point lead. Then Houston started missing free throws, North Carolina State rallied and had the ball in the final seconds in a 52-52 tie. Guard Dereck Whittenburg put up a desperation 30-foot shot with four seconds left that was way short and . . . you might know the rest. They do in Houston. Lorenzo Charles was waiting under the basket to grab the errant shot and slammed it home with one second left. Phi Slama Jama had lived by the dunk, and died by the dunk. The scene of North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano running wildly around the court gets replayed every spring as an iconic and wonderful tournament moment – except for the team he had just beaten.

For hollow consolation, Houston’s Akeem later-to-be-Hakeem Olajuwon was named Most Outstanding Player, and 38 years later, is still the last member of a losing team to be so.

1984 — There was enough left over of Phi Slama Jama — especially Olajuwon — that Houston returned to the national title game. But the Cougars ran into Ewing and Georgetown’s defense and lost 84-75. The golden days were over. Houston would not win another NCAA tournament game for 34 years.

The Cougars’ special brand of Final Four pain can be measured with numbers. They are one of only four programs to go to three consecutive Final Fours and not win any of them. UCLA, Ohio State and North Carolina are also in that club, but those three all have national championships from other years. Houston is also one of four programs to lose consecutive title games — with Cincinnati, Michigan and Butler.

But maybe another number explains how tough it has been for the Cougars, because the opponent has a lot to do with fate. Take away the North Carolina State fairy tale, and the four other teams Houston lost to in the Final Four had a combined record of 118-6 when they met

 

So now here the Cougars are again 37 years later, and Sampson is telling stories about how much he wishes his parents were alive to see this. And about the Sweet 16 in 2002 when he was coaching at Oklahoma, and how he was in the hospital until 4 a.m. the day of the game waiting for his father to come out of surgery with a brain aneurysm. Those Sooners would eventually get to the Final Four. And how his old boss at Oklahoma, athletics director Joe Castiglione sent Sampson a big package when he got the job at Houston. Inside the package was a ladder to both symbolize Sampson’s career climb and the hope he would be needing it to cut down nets in the future.

Final Four: Here’s what the world was like last time Baylor made it

This Houston team has nothing like the glamour of Phi Slama Jama or the Elvin Hayes bunch that took down UCLA in the middle of the Astrodome. “We may not have the brightest lights,” Sampson said, “but our lights shine as bright as anybody else’s.”

These Cougars now have a chance to do what those Houston teams could not. And if it doesn’t turn out, if there is defeat at the end for a sixth time?

Well, it’s not a bad legacy for a program to have, losing lots of Final Four games.

_______________

Culled from the NCAA.COM. Writer, Mike Lopresti is a member of the US Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, Ball State journalism Hall of Fame and Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame. He has covered college basketball for 43 years, including 39 Final Fours. He is so old he covered Bob Knight when he had dark hair and basketball shorts were actually short.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCAA or its member institutions.

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Houston

Historic Firefighter pay settlement and new contract win city council approval

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Houston City Council has approved a historic pay settlement and a new five-year contract for the 4,000 dedicated men and women of the Houston Fire Department. The vote marks a long-awaited victory for Houston firefighters, ending the disrespect and legal challenges and beginning the process of returning the HFD to a world-class department with adequate staffing and equipment.

“This is a historic day! I urge Houston firefighters and their families to relish this well-deserved victory. For eight long years, you have persevered through immense challenges while continuing to protect and serve our community,” said Patrick M. ‘Marty’ Lancton, President of the HPFFA. “Today’s vote by City Council is not just a resolution of past grievances; it’s recognition of our sacrifices and a commitment to providing the resources needed to continue serving Houston with dedication and pride.”

Houston City Council stalls vote on Fire Department contract – Houston  Public Media

The settlement includes provisions for back pay owed to firefighters, addressing a contentious issue that has strained labor relations for nearly a decade. The new five-year collective bargaining agreement provides pay hikes, significant improvements in working conditions, enhanced benefits, a renewed focus on recruitment and retention, and mental health support — a crucial component given firefighting’s stressful and demanding nature. The landmark deal underscores the core tenets of what it means to be a Houston firefighter: delivering excellent service, being good stewards of city resources, and giving back to the community.

“We owe a profound debt of gratitude to Mayor Whitmire for his steadfast commitment to bringing this ordeal to a close,” said Lancton. “He made a promise, and he has fulfilled it. His support and public recognition of Houston firefighters and the job they do are bolstering morale and helping to mend years of distrust. We eagerly anticipate further collaboration as we strive to enhance firefighting and emergency services for Houstonians.”

Firefighters will receive their back pay in July. The new five-year contract is effective with the start of the city’s new fiscal year on July 1, 2024.

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Houston

Council Member Abbie Kamin Honored by Greater Houston LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce

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Greater Houston LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce is honoring City of Houston Council Member Abbie Kamin with the Chamber Champion Award at the fourth annual Pride In Business Celebration & Awards Luncheon, which recognizes the contributions made by Chamber members, Impact Partners, and other key stakeholders in building a more diverse and inclusive business community. The awards spotlight deserving companies and individuals and showcase their impactful work to support the LGBTQ+ community.

Council Member Abbie Kamin received the Chamber Champion Award, a designation earned by a strong advocate for the Chamber committed to advancing prosperity for our LGBTQ+ community.  “I’ve had the privilege to work alongside the Chamber and see firsthand the incredible partnerships they foster for our LGBTQIA+ community and businesses. I am extremely moved by this award and what it represents.” said Council Member Kamin. “Business is the backbone of our thriving city and can make a difference when it comes to fighting back against the unacceptable discrimination and bigotry our LGBTQIA+ community is facing. I will always stand with our LGBTQIA+ businesses and families, and thank the Chamber for this prestigious honor.”

“Council Member Kamin has been a longtime advocate and champion for the LGBTQ+ community. She is a partner with the Chamber on the Show Your Pride campaign and supported the Chamber’s efforts to make Houston the first city in Texas to recognize LGBTQ+ owned businesses in City of Houston contracting,” said Tammi Wallace, Co-Founder, President & CEO, Greater Houston LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce.  “In 2022, she created the Families with Pride festival to celebrate love, inclusivity, and all families, and she was recognized as the Ally Grand Marshal for the Pride Parade in 2021. It’s for these reasons and more that the Chamber is proud to recognize her as an outstanding champion and ally of the LGBTQ+ community.”

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Council Member Thomas Hosts Swim & Water Safety Seminar

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As temperatures soar into the high 90s, Council Member Tiffany D. Thomas is bringing her “Summer of Safety” initiative to the pool. Pools offer a refreshing escape from the heat, but they also come with inherent risks. According to the latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the CDC report, there is an annual average of 389 pool or spa-related fatal drownings and 6,300 nonfatal drowning injuries among children under 15. Alarmingly, 73% of these fatalities and 80% of the injuries involve children under five. Tragically, as recent as June 1st of this year, a 5-year-old girl drowned in a pool in the Westchase area of District F.
“This speaks to the overall importance of why we need to make sure that our families, young people, and adults have the tools they need in order to swim,” said Council Member Thomas.
Launched in 2023, the “Summer of Safety” initiative is returning with enhanced programming. This year’s events continue to focus on the health and safety of young residents in District F, aiming to improve the quality of life for all constituents in the district and across Houston.
The “Summer of Safety” initiative kicks off with a Swim and Water Safety Seminar at the Alief Neighborhood Center Pool. Hosted by Council Member Thomas in collaboration with Houston Waves, Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and Coach CPR LLC., the seminar will feature a beginner’s swimming class and essential pool safety guidelines.
This event is a prime opportunity to update, educate, and empower the community with the knowledge that swimming skills and pool safety are crucial at any age.
Event Details:
WHAT: Swim & Water Safety Seminar
WHEN: Saturday, June 15 and Saturday, July 13, 2024, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
WHERE: The Alief Neighborhood Center Pool, 11903 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX 77072
WHO: Tiffany D. Thomas, Houston City Council Member for District F, and a staunch advocate for quality of life and public safety; Moms, Dads, kids, and adults enjoying the first summer in the new Alief Neighborhood Pool.
WHY: There are approximately 4,000 fatal unintentional drownings each year, which averages to about 11 drowning deaths per day. Additionally, there are around 8,000 nonfatal drownings annually, resulting in an average of 22 nonfatal drownings per day.

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