No Arizona Wildcat fan will forget where they were on Aug. 27, 2020, when news broke of the passing of legendary Arizona basketball head coach Lute Olson.
I know I sure won’t. As journalists, we’re taught to write without bias and not show our thoughts in the stories we write.
However, as a Tucsonan at the age of 25, born and raised in the “Old Pueblo” whose grandparents had season tickets to Arizona games since McKale Center opened in 1973, it is hard not to share my thoughts. So, here it goes.
Looking back at the spring of 1983 when coach Olson arrived in Tucson faced with a daunting task of rebuilding a program left in shambles, who knew back then that coach “O” (as referred to affectionately by his players) would not only take Arizona to new heights but also take the city of Tucson and its community on a ride that it will never forget.
When you think of Olson’s 25 years as head coach, the first thing that comes to mind is the 589 career wins, 11 Pac-10 titles, four Final Fours and the national title in 1997.
He meant more than that to the city. See, Olson ran his program with a family atmosphere in mind with him and his late wife Bobbi Olson as the program’s center point.
Not only did he instill that sense of family in the players he coached, but he was able to make a whole city feel like they were a part of the family.
That was the key to his success in Tucson; that sense of community took Olson from just another coach to a local icon that put Tucson on the map.
For those reasons, the passing of coach “O” has rocked the city of Tucson and its community as a whole.
Shortly after the news of his passing, people began to stop by his statue in front of McKale Center, paying their respects to the Tucson icon with flowers and candles to symbolize the love and generosity the community has for the man that made Tucson a basketball town.
I was born in 1995, so I remember going to games and seeing all these amazing players after the national title. Still, even seeing Olson near the end of his career, he had a profound impact on my life.
The first game I can remember going to was against UCLA in 2005 when a sharpshooter named Salim Stoudamire hit a game-winning 3-pointer to beat rival UCLA.
At that moment, I fell in love with the game of basketball and developed my passion for sports and specifically college athletics.
Without Arizona basketball and Olson, I’m not sure if I would have garnered the same love for sports today. Therefore, I doubt that I would want a career in the journalism business.
So, as a Tucsonan, I say “Thank you” to Coach Olson. Thank you for inspiring a young kid to dream, and to shoot for the stars.
I think the biggest lesson I learned from Olson’s time on this earth is that anything is possible in life. As long as you are willing to work hard and treat people the right way, anything is possible.
As Tucson mourns the loss of an icon, keep in mind what kind of person he was and how he made everyone around him feel like family. Yes, Olson was one of the greatest coaches the Pac-12 has ever seen but he was also a symbol of how to make a community a home.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer Troy Hutchison hails from Tucson and is a lifelong Arizona Wildcats follower. He has been involved in sports journalism over the last two years while taking communications courses at Pima Community College.