Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame
“IT WAS LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT . . .One day I picked up a basketball, and it never let me go.” – from Lute!: The Seasons of My Life, by Lute Olson and David Fisher.
In nearly a quarter century at University of Arizona, Norwegian-American Lute Olson established both Wildcat basketball program and himself as two of the preeminent figures on the collegiate basketball landscape. He was voted Pac-10 Coach of the Year seven times, made five Final Four appearances and won the 1997 NCAA championship with Arizona, where his team accomplished the unprecedented feat of defeating three #1 seeds in the same tournament. But that is just half of the story of Olson’s career, whose five decades as a head coach included a rare off-court victory: enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Born in Mayville, ND, Olson attended high school in Grand Forks, where he led the basketball team to the 1952 state championship. Following graduation from Augsburg College, he began coaching prep ball, first in Minnesota, then California. Collegiate coaching followed at Long Beach City College and Long Beach State, where his success caught the attention of Iowa. He led the Hawkeyes to nice successful seasons. Taking the reins in Tucson in 1983, he was given a program that had just finished 4-24. A meteoric turn-around ensued, much to the delight of the legions of hoop-crazed fans in the Sonoran desert. The rest is history.
Lute’s partner for forty-seven years in building championship programs was his high school sweetheart and first wife, Bobbi, who became the players’ mother-away-from-home. The Arizona community loved her almost as much as he did, and publicly mourned her death in 2001.