EDITOR NOTE: Legendary local youth baseball organizer Bill Leith, featured in AllSportsTucson.com’s “Tucson’s Treasures” series earlier this summer, wrote the following tribute of the late Lute Olson, who passed away at age 85 on Thursday night. Leith moved his family from New York City suburb Beacon to Tucson almost 30 years ago. He mentions in this tribute factors behind the move, including the lure of Lute.
There will be thousands of stories and memories of Lute. His impact on what he meant in so many ways to this community and to the many people born and raised here makes the loss understandably personal and difficult.
The impact of Lute to people like myself who from afar watched it and then gravitated to it is something that is hard to describe.
When we are raised in New York City it takes a lot to impress us. We measure our athletes and entertainers to Sinatra, DiMaggio, Jackie, Mantle, Maris, Reggie, Munson, Seaver, the Knicks Willis Reed, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Namath.
You are lucky and fortunate to attend World Series and Super Bowl games. You watch Sinatra sing in Madison Square Garden. You witness greatness and that is your measuring stick, whether it be athletes or entertainers.
You live in a world that you feel everybody should revolve around to a point you never heard of a place called Tucson.
That is until at some point in the mid 1980’s on cold wintry days in the city you watch TV and you would come across a college basketball game that features this handsome Cary Grant figure along with that great cactus logo on the floor. It catches your eye and then you find yourself watching more as time went on. Impressionable is a hard thing to accomplish with us city slickers.
Because of the Grant look-a-like and the cactus logo, you knew where the game was being played. Tucson started to become a household name even to many of us 2,500 miles away.
When it came time to pull up stakes from the noise, pollution, taxes and subways, Florida was not the choice.
We said, “Hey, let’s try this desert town that has this stoic Hollywood-looking coach and that iconic logo.”
Well, 30 years later that move turned out to be pretty damn good.
That is the type of impact this coach had. This city and university does not grow to where it is today without this coach. The growth and increase in student enrollment is because of this coach and the brand he built for the university. This is not even debatable.
Many, like myself, moved here because Tucson was truly recognizable and a neat place to live because of this coach. When a person has that type of impact on society in many different ways, not just basketball, you then are at a level of iconic, forever remembered. You become the fabric of a community where you became legendary. That can not or will not be repeated ever again by anybody in this town.
RIP to our Coach Lute and thank you for making that impression on this guy from NYC.
P.S. That cactus logo needs to be back on that floor in some capacity. It’s like the Yankee pinstripes.