PHOENIX — For a University of Arizona basketball fan, the word legend is almost always synonymous with the name Lute Olson. He was the official face of the basketball program for 25 years and the unofficial face in the years after.
Olson was born on September 22, 1934, in Maryville, North Dakota. He attended Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he played football, basketball and one year of baseball.
Augsburg University is also where he met his wife, Bobbi, who would become famous in her own right among Olson's players for her pancake breakfasts and team mom status. The two were married in 1953.
After graduating from college he coached high school basketball for 13 years. He began his collegiate head coaching career at Long Beach City College in 1969 before taking the head coaching position at Long Beach State University in 1973.
From Long Beach State, Olson moved to the head coaching job at the University of Iowa. He was the head coach there for nine years before moving to the University of Arizona in 1983, where he remained for 25 years before retiring.
Olson's status as an icon is due, in part, to the players he coached who would go on to be legends in their own right. Steve Kerr, Mike Bibby and Luke Walton to name a few. Those players, and many others, went on to top NBA franchises across the country. But in Tucson, Lute was the star.
Olson led the way for 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, starting in his second year of coaching at Arizona. He was voted the PAC-10 Coach of the Year seven times, his teams made five Final Four appearances and his 1997 team brought home the NCAA Championship win after defeating three #1 seeds in the same tournament.
The City of Tucson, not just university students, delighted in these accomplishments. And how could it not? Olson brought prestige to a mediocre basketball program, to the school it represented and the city at large.
On January 1, 2001, Lute suffered a painful loss when his wife of 47 years, Bobbi, passed away from ovarian cancer. The basketball court at McKale Center is named the Lute and Bobbi Olson Court in her memory. The couple had five children together.
Olson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and retired in 2008 from Arizona with a 589-187 record.
In the years after his retirement, Olson became a fixture at all Arizona home basketball games and often traveled to road games in California.
On April 12, 2018, The University of Arizona honored Olson with a statue outside the McKale Center on campus.
Lute passed away in Tucson on Aug. 27, 2020. He was 85 years old.