By John P. Lopez
In spectacular fashion, the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority unveiled plans for a Houston Sports Hall Of Fame last week.
Now, the hard part. After the very fitting inaugural class of Nolan Ryan, Earl Campbell and Hakeem Olajuwon was announced, the possibilities for the Houston Hall seem endless. But they’re not, really. Not if the Sports Authority follow-up the terrific initial class with a bang.
If you’re going do it, go big. Why not fill the Hall with the most deserving names this city has seen in various categories?
If you’re going to build it, give fans a bold array of contributors. Why not put at least five enshrinees from a cross-section of Houston’s sports history? That way, when the doors swing open for the first time, the true pioneers of Houston’s vast sports history would be the first names honored in the Hall.
Five categories seem appropriate. In the decades I have been honored to cover sports in Houston, I couldn’t imagine more deserving inductees than the following:
Carl Lewis — The greatest and most-decorated track-and-field Olympian in history. A UH-ex, Lewis also was a pioneer in the sport, bucking the amateur-athlete system, which led to a multi-billion dollar windfall for today’s Olympians.
Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell — The Houston Hall can pull off what the Baseball Hall could not. Induct them both, together. Nothing would be more appropriate for these Astros icons who by themselves were spectacular, but together defined a generation of Astros baseball.
Mary Lou Retton — Before her, USA Gymnastics was a laughingstock. After she captured the nation’s and world’s hearts in 1980, USA Gymnastics became the world’s most dominant force. There was one reason for that happening. Mary Lou.
Dan Pastorini — The Texans may someday win a Super Bowl and this city would explode with passion and love. But never — ever — will there be Luv like there was in the late-1970s. And no one epitomized the Luv Ya Blue era more than Earl Campbell and Dan Pastorini. Earl is in, Dante should be next.
Guy V. Lewis — The Phi Slama Jama Coogs were the most memorable, but many people tend to forget that Guy V. took UH to the Final Four five times. He also helped transform the game into the high-flying show it is today.
Larry Dierker — A.J. Hinch won a World Series and Phil Garner took the Astros to the World Series. But the Astros went from also-rans to perennial contenders under Dierker. He lifted the club to multiple division titles and won 448 games as a manager. That’s after starring for 14 MLB seasons as a player, mostly with the Astros.
Bill Yeoman — No one innovated a game more than Bill Yeoman. No one. In 25 seasons at UH, Yeoman changed offensive football by inventing the Veer Option, and also became the first coach in Texas to racially integrate his roster.
Rudy Tomjanovich — Never underestimate the heart of a champion. His words continue to echo across the Houston basketball landscape. Tomjanovich’s supreme ability to handle diverse personalities and implement inside-outside offensive basketball gave Houston its first two major sports championships.
Van Chancellor — His drawling, country personality belied Chancellor’s elite basketball acumen. After incredible success at the collegiate level, Chancellor led the Houston Comets to the WNBA’s first four consecutive championships. He went on to guide USA Basketball to the 2004 Olympic Gold Medal.
Roy Hofeinz — No one in our city’s history has come close to being the visionary that was, “The Judge.” Not only did he bring Major League Baseball to Houston, he envisioned and pushed forward completion of the first domed stadium in sports history — the Astrodome.
Bob McNair — Against all odds, McNair lobbied, influenced, cajoled and ultimately convinced NFL owners to bring football back to Houston. He put up $750 million of his own dollars, too. And after a long, sad absence since 1996, football returned to Houston in 2002.
Leslie Alexander — Never one to search out the limelight, Alexander preferred to conduct his Business efficiently behind the scenes. He proved to be the greatest franchise owner in Houston sports history, paving the way to back-to-back championships and always equipping the Rockets with a contending roster.
Jim McIngvale — Beyond always being deeply involved in Houston sports and related charities, the iconic Mattress Mack brought Houston numerous world-class tennis events and the world-class Westside Tennis Club. He also has funded and supported too many amateur sports-related facilities and teams to mention.
Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo — From the Sam Houston Coliseum, to the Astrodome, to NRG Stadium. From Gene Autry, to Elvis, to Selena and Garth Brooks. The HLS&R has entertained millions and raised millions of dollars in scholarships. Without it, the Houston sporting landscape would just not be the same.
Anita Martini — The first woman ever to cover an MLB All Star game, the first woman ever allowed into an MLB clubhouse and the first woman ever to host a major-market sports radio show, Martini broke barriers. She became one of the best and most respected pioneers in women’s sports media history.
Gene Elston — From the inaugural season, through the first Astros’ division pennant and the magical 1986 playoff run, Elston was the voice of the Astros. Generations of Astros fans grew up listening to Elston during the golden-age of baseball play-by-play.
Milo Hamilton — That’s right, pal-ly. The Astros’ had two of the most iconic voices in baseball history and both should earn entry into the Houston Hall. Milo’s easily distinguishable voice meant it was time for Astros baseball. No one called a big play better.
John McClain — From Luv Ya Blue, to the Run-and-Shoot and the Dawning of Deshaun, for four decades “The General” has guided Houston football fans through the highs and lows, and lows, and lows. Even when Houston was without football from 1996-2002, McClain covered the NFL weekly.
Gene Peterson — An unabashed “homer” Gene Peterson’s magical baritone made every game feel special through three decades of Rockets basketball. How sweet it was to have such a passionate fan and sharp broadcaster call everything from Ralph Sampson’s miracle shot, to back-to-back championships, to McGrady and Yao.