George Kalil, one of the Arizona Wildcats’ biggest, best and sometimes loudest fans, passed away on Wednesday. He was 81.
His family announced his passing on social media Thursday.
Few Arizona men’s basketball fans were like the affable and seemingly always-there Wildcat fan who wore his staple red short-sleeve shirt and slacks as he sat right behind the UA men’s basketball team through the years.
Until recently – when he started to feel in bad health – no one saw more men’s basketball games through the years. In a 40-year span, Kalil told me he had missed just a dozen or so games.
“There is no doubt George was one of our Wildcats’ biggest fans,” said former deputy athletic director Rocky LaRose. “But he was more than that … he cared and supported everyone – win or lose. My fondest memory of him was when we were in Charlotte at the Final Four – our staff was touched and overwhelmed with everything to be done – and he didn’t even ask so he jumped right in and started to help us distribute tickets and packets as our fans arrived. He even stayed until the last one was taken care of.”
He truly was one of the “Good Guys” at Kalil as his bottling commercials would say.
But, true to form that was Kalil in a nutshell – always there to help. Earlier this year, Salpointe Catholic High named its gym the Kalil Family Gymnasium after he gave the school $1 million for renovations for the gym and to install lights at the baseball, softball and track facilities.
In 2014, he donated $1 million to help UA with the restoration of his second home – McKale Center.
In the book 100 Things Arizona Fans Need to Know and Do before They Die, Kalil joked about the donation that when he was ready to give the money after years of being asked by UA officials, they “were ready to take it … I handed over a check for $1 million. They were shocked. I was shocked … I’m just glad I did it.”
Kalil’s love for UA basketball started as a kid who grew up just four blocks near Bear Down Gym, but really grew in the early 1970s when he was a constant figure at McKale Center, seeing a transition of several coaches along the way.
“I hadn’t had a vacation in five years, so I went on the road with the team,” Kalil said for the book. “I enjoyed it – the players, the managers, the families, the coaches. It’s truly a special family to me.”
His first game was March 2, 1973 when UA traveled to Ft. Collins, Colo. Then he went to Laramie, Wyoming after he saw an advertisement in the newspaper rallying fans to join the team for road games. After the loss to Colorado State he purchased a big drum to help bring noise and help encourage the team. UA beat Wyoming the next game. Kalil and the drum became staples throughout UA’s destinations. Or at least for the next seven years, later being retired after the chancellor at Brigham Young University created an ordinance that no fan could bring their own musical instrument.
“I had a whale of a good time,” he said, of the drum. “I didn’t cause any trouble. That’s what I prided myself on. I don’t cause any problems.”
On road trips, he was a constant with the teams, many times going to movies and sitting in the lobby of hotels, if he wasn’t working in his hotel room handling his business for Kalil Bottling.
“George was a good family friend for 30 years,” former UA assistant basketball coach Jim Rosborough said. “He as a gentleman and fan who supported Arizona through thick and thin. We had many memorable meals with George on road trips. He was tremendous help in herding us all in the right direction on trips and was a trusted advisor about the local scene. His presence will be felt in the community and on the athletic fields for years to come. He was a great man.”
Throughout the years under the 25-year Lute Olson era he was a constant companion of the late Bobbi Olson.
The pairing seemed inevitable given Bobbi was at every game, but it wasn’t a surety it would happen initially.
A few months after Olson was hired, he attended a party (he wasn’t sure how he was invited) and it was there he became part of the UA basketball family.
Bobbi was at the party knitting in the backyard talking to a few of the players when she turned to George to see if he’d be traveling with the team. He wasn’t sure at the time because he wasn’t sure if he had gotten the approval from Lute.“She put the knitting material in her lap and took my hand and said, ‘You’re officially part of the traveling party,’ Kalil recalled in the book. “I didn’t know what to do. Do I turn and look to Lute? I didn’t turn to him, but he was eight feet away. They talked over everything but I’m not sure they talked about me.”
In the book, Olson said Kalil was always the same win or lose – a loyal fan.
“It didn’t make a difference how we played or who we played,” Olson recalled. “Everything was always great with George. George basically had (a love for UA) basketball and he had his business.”
Former Arizona athletic director Cedric Dempsey said. Kalil was a “true Wildcat through good times and tough times.” Among the tough times was in 1982-83, when Arizona went 4-24 under Ben Lindsey, who was hired before Dempsey embarked on his first season as the school’s athletic director that season.
“While I was at Arizona, I don’t think George ever missed a home or away men’s basketball game,” Dempsey said. “I will never forget in my first year we were at Stanford together. As we were walking out of the arena, George said, ‘You know, you really have a problem with basketball? If you ever need me I’ll be hear to help.’
“George was a true Wildcat through good times and tough times. I have many fond memories and sorry to hear of his passing.”