Having a local legend is hard enough to come by, so when you find one hang on tight. In Arizona legends are few and far between, but one name is synonymous with winning: Lute Olson. He is the sheriff and has been even after his exit in 2008 for health and family reasons. When he left a void was created that was hard to fill, over the years a few have tried with mixed reviews.
The term legend is thrown around far too often; it is saturated with the average masquerading as something they are not. A legend in basketball transcends the game and assists in others transcending the game. Compared to Coach Olson, who has accomplished anything like that?
Coach Olson made a quiet, unannounced entrance into the McKale Center a few minutes into the opening round match-up between Northern Colorado and San Diego State University. What wasn’t quiet was the standing ovation he received from the crowd around him and then through the rest of the arena. As Coach explained, he is a long time friend of SDSU head Coach Steve Fisher and was in attendance for support. It worked out perfectly for that support to happen, an old friend slotted to play in the building Coach made famous with his 569 wins, 11 Pac-10 Championships and the National Championship he brought to Tucson in 1997. When Coach is in the building he is here to win.
But on this trip he was simply a spectator of a friend sitting ten rows back in a small corner of the arena. He was here to support his friend in search of his own win. San Diego State has never won a NCAA Tournament game and has the best team in their schools history. As a No.2 seed the odds were in their favor to begin with to come out victorious. As Coach looked on SDSU dominated the second half to earn their first NCAA Tournament victory.
After the game, Coach took a familiar stroll down the corridors of the McKale Center walking past memories and history he created. At the end of his stroll he ended at the “designated” locker room of the SDSU Aztecs. Inside were Coach Fisher and his winning team, also the Arizona colors and pride all around him. Coach made it a point to shake every players hand, give them some words of wisdom and addressed the team as a whole. Such a nice gesture was not needed of him, but reflects the person who once lived in this locker room for 23 years.
I had a chance to ask to ask Coach Fisher what Coach told his team after the game. This is what he had to say: “Lute and I have been friends for a long time, long time. He came in his locker room we have, and he went around and talked to some of our players individually. And he just talked about our team and the length that we’ve got and how we can do what we’ve talked about all year. Score in multiple ways. We’re hard to score on even when it looks like they’re good shots. And was very, very complimentary. Then he went around and shook several hands and told them the same thing.”
Coach is away from the game and is just a friend, but coaching and giving out basketball advice are still what he does best. Coach will always be Coach and basketball will continue to course through his veins.