And did anybody catch the number of the spaceship that delivered these guys? Beautiful creatures wearing HOUSTON on their chests landed today on this moonscape so desolate we used to practice atomic bombs down the road. HOUSTON, to judge by the evidence, might be a city on the planet Phi Slama Jama.
The Slama Jamites are out of this world. Not literally, perhaps. But how else to explain Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, the 7-foot Nigerian soccer goalie who today led the Slama Jamites with 1,617,534 blocked shots and a few more slama-jamas? And the metaphor carries enough weight that an expert witness could only shake his head and, with the breathlessness of a saucer captive reporting to the National Enquirer, say, "I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it."
Unfortunately for the University of Louisville, Coach Denny Crum saw every piece of the wonder created by Houston's basketball team in its 94-81 victory in today's semifinals of the NCAA tournament. He won't soon forget it. Nor will anyone lucky enough to be here when Houston's unique team of acrobats, highwaymen and trapeze artists put on a thrill show that stole our breath and left only one question, "Why doesn't N.C. State just go home right now?"
Maybe nostalgics believe a UCLA team with Kareem or Walton could handle the Houston team that now stands, unquestioned, as the best final four outfit this side of Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana champions. Even that Indiana team, with six pros-to-be, didn't have the depth Houston showed today when it ran past Louisville's feared press, leaped over Louisville's leapers and reduced basketball to its foundation element.
Put the ball into the hole.
At one point, Houston's smallest player on court was 6-foot-6 and 220. Its front line averages 6-9 1/3, 230. The size and strength come in a package with wonderful basketball instincts, too. They play a pounding game under the boards and a pressure game out front. There are NBA teams that can't do what Houston did today, such as this . . .
At 58-57, Houston on top, here came Clyde Drexler.
The Houston junior is 6-foot-7, 210 pounds. His countenance is that of a basketball sophisticate, as if he has seen everything and is slightly amused by it. There's a touch of Dr. J in him, not only in the princely elegance of his manner but in the lighter-than-air step that lifts him, gliding long distances, until he vectors in on the rim and performs a sleight of hand so mystifying that mortals want it explained.
At 58-57, Drexler came flying.
He cradled the ball in his right hand, the better to claw-hook-hammer it home.
But no, he brought it back into both hands.
He's still flying.
Now, how'd he do that? He stuffed it.
"I've worked on that in practice (the artist explaining). I wanted to make them think first I was going to dunk it. Then, if they thought that, I would bring it down and pass it. Then, I went on and dunked it. Then, we were both confused."
Listening, Guy Lewis smiled at how great a coach becomes when he has lighter-than-air players.
Lewis seldom is mistaken for a Nobel laureate. The Houston coach even admitted he didn't know one of his key players had fouled out today. But he knows this: The closer you are to the hoop, the easier it is to put the ball through it. So he convinces big, strong players to pursue careers in nuclear physics at Houston while throwing down stuff shots.
"Inside is better than outside," the coach said.
Or, as sophomore forward Benny Anders put it, "The first time I took it in against Charles Jones, I passed off. Coach told me then to take it to the rack and stick it on him. So the second time, I took it to the rack and stuck it on him."
In the first 32 games this season, one of every seven Houston baskets was a dunk, stuff, jam or stick. Now Houston wears on its warmup jerseys the words, "Phi Slama Jama."
Ground Zero today was under the feet of Olajuwon, who vaporized Louisville and caused buildings to tremble. Of Olajuwon's nine field goals, each one came on a slama-jama, each dunk more authoritative than the last, each stuff delivered with his eyebrows at rim level.
"The agents are crawling around Houston's players," said a big-time coach.
Olajuwon is only four seasons removed from a Nigerian soccer field. Now he may be four days away from the cashier's window.
"We played Virginia and got beat when Ralph Sampson had this kind of game," Crum said. "But I've never seen another college team with this dominant physical ability. Akeem killed us. He intimidated us. God, he's a great leaper, he's 7-foot tall, he's got great timing, he's got long arms. What else does he need?"
Someone asked Olajuwon about his defensive work on Charles Jones. Olajuwon might not have understood the question. His answer, anyway, had nothing to do with the question but still was enlightening.
"The coach told me we control our destiny," Olajuwon said. "He told us not to give up and just play our game."
As it happens, Olajuwon's game is only vaguely familiar to earthlings.
Olajuwon had 15 of Houston's 30 second-half rebounds, and Lewis said it had been a while since one of his teams played so well.
"Back in the '60s, some of the UCLA games when they were No. 1 and we were No. 2, might have been as good," Lewis said. "But I don't know when I've ever seen more great athletes than were out on the floor today."