On today’s 100 Days of Hoops, we look back at one of college basketball’s many magical moments. College basketball gives die-hard basketball fans excitement and adrenaline when a game comes down to its final moments, especially so if the game was hyped up to be the “Game of the [20th] Century”. Television has paved the way on how basketball is covered, from a regular season game at Kansas to the National Championship game in front of 50,000 fans, it’s stunning to see how different the media covers basketball.
The “Game of the Century” took place at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas and the matchup was two heavyweights from the UCLA Bruins and the hometown Houston Cougars. The hype was real too, as this was the first nationally televised regular season college basketball game and 52,693 fans flocked to the Astrodome.
Ted Nance, a sports director at the University of Houston, set up the schedule and advertised it throughout campus, continuously dubbing it the “Game of the Century”, even going so far to shout it out in public and people looking at him as if he had three heads. While Nance was doing that and word was getting around that the game might be on national television, TV entrepreneur Eddie Einhorn helped put together a plan to have the game nationally syndicated across the country, so the whole nation could see this game. Einhorn broadcasted Bruins games to this point and put Dick Enberg as the lead play-by-play man for the game. The game and stadium situation also showed how powerful a college basketball crowd roar can be in a stadium of that size, but it was not an easy task for the first time as Enberg states.
““The folks that organized the whole game in the Astrodome didn’t know quite what to do with it. So instead of walling off one end of a big domed arena like they do now, they just placed the court exactly in the center of the Astrodome floor, so no one had a good seat,” Enberg says.
“So what they did to accommodate those that bought lower box seats, they dug foxholes in the floor and the press and the broadcasters were in foxholes so they didn’t obstruct the view. So literally, when you looked out at the floor, you only could see the heads of these people, including us.”
Einhorn was a visionary for media and advertising. While the “Game of the Century” was happening, Einhorn was endlessly taking phone calls from advertisers to try and make thousands upon thousands of dollars.
Houston big man Elvin Hayes remembers the day fondly, as the surrounding Houston area felt Hollywood. “We ran down the ramp and they had a red carpet all the way out on the field. I still get goose bumps when I think about it, it kind of reminded me how the gladiators must have felt back in Roman times,” Hayes said. “It was almost like being under a microscope. It was surreal, almost out of the movies. You knew you were surrounded by people.”
Coming into the game, UCLA had a 47-game winning streak dating back to the previous season. In fact, UCLA has so many winning streaks throughout the program’s history, many say students there are still winning basketball games today, but no evidence is found of that claim. The Bruins were led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who went by Lew Alcindor) and were defending champions. Kareem suffered an eye injury in a game the week prior and went on to perform poorly in this game. Despite that and the fact that Houston was the #2 seed, the fans felt their team was the ultimate underdog.
Here’s a rundown from each team’s memories of the game including Houston’s Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Houston coach Guy Lewis and more!
And, if you have a half hour on your hands, check out the game itself here! Although for whatever reason, it only shows the end of the first half and the full second half, the game ends at around the 30-minute mark.
Houston won in a thriller 71-69, but UCLA would get its revenge a few months later. The whole event was a huge success and the NCAA still reaps the benefits of showing prime matchups during prime time slots. The next season, NBC retained the rights and broadcasted the first national championship game which cost more than five hundred grand. Basketball on television has come such a long way and the demand is high every March, the NCAA renewed rights to broadcast tournament games with CBS back in 2008, costing around $545 million.