40 Years Ago Today, Tommy Bonk Created Phi Slama Jama

On January 2, 1983, a 30-something sportswriter for the Houston Post looked for an angle on a column he needed to write. Tommy Bonk had just watched a Sunday afternoon basketball game where the Houston Cougars scored 112 points, over half coming from dunks.

He looked for a name he could call the team without stating the obvious. On a self-imposed deadline, he settled on Texas’ Tallest Fraternity. His column led with a phrase that rewrote the culture of college basketball.

As members of the exclusive college roundball fraternity Phi Slama Jama, the Houston chapter has learned proper parliamentary procedure.

The column was printed the next day, and the name Phi Slama Jama changed UH history.

The game was Houston’s first at home since December 8th. The Cougars went to Syracuse for a $100,000 payday for a TV game, then traveled to Tokyo for two games in the Suntory Classic, which included a matchup against #1 Virginia. UH came home and then traveled to Malibu to play Pepperdine before returning to Houston for the January 2nd game vs. Pacific.

That day, Michael Young celebrated his 22nd birthday, scoring 29 points to lead the #18 Houston Cougars by the Tigers, 112-58.

“Didn’t he have a super first half,” Guy V. Lewis asked reporters. “What did he have, 20 points at the half?”

The Cougars had 29 dunks that day, inspiring Bonk to get creative with his column. The UH administration jumped on the name Phi Slama Jama and within days had a banner on the ring that circled the Hofheinz floor. It wasn’t until three weeks later, after UH beat #4 Arkansas, that a UPI writer named Tony Favia introduced the phrase to the country.

By then, Phi Slama Jama mania had swept through the University community and the city.

Phi Slama Jama mania took over campus / The Houstonian

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