Sept. 27, 2002
Lute Olson joined an elite list of 246 people on Sept. 27, 2002, as he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Here is the text of his acceptance speech:
"Thank you very much.
Wow - Coach Newell has been one of my heroes for many years.
I had the privilege of watching coach's great teams at the University of California including the 1959 NCAA Championship Team. I hired one of his players from that team, Wally Torkells, as an assistant at Marina High School in Huntington Beach and then at Long Beach City College. That allowed me to steal even more defensive information from Coach that has been a big part of our defensive philosophy for many years.
I have had an opportunity to get to know Coach Newell personally over the last thirty years. He has been a special friend! I have valued his willingness to share his expertise whenever it has been requested.
Coach - you are the best! Thank you for being my presenter.
I'm joining you by videotape on this special occasion in that I am in Italy for my son Steve's wedding. It is unfortunate that this conflicted with the induction ceremonies. However, I've done as any family man would do and that is to be with my family here in Italy.
I want to express my thanks to the nominating committee and to the Honors Committee for this very special honor.
I would also like to congratulate the other members of the class of 2002. It is an honor to be inducted with such an outstanding group.
I am humbled and overwhelmed by this honor. It is truly one of the biggest upsets of all time!
I was born on a farm in North Dakota and had it not been for two tragedies to my family, I would probably still be on that farm.
The first tragedy was when my father, Albert, died very suddenly from a massive stroke at age 47. I was about to turn 5. My father was a hard worker and a loving family man.
My oldest brother Amos was away at college but had to come home to run the farm for my Mother in that my sister Kathleen was 14 and my brother Marvin was only nine. Nine months later, the second tragedy struck when Amos was killed in a tractor accident. My mother had no other option but to give up the farm and move the family to town. My Mother had only an 8th grade education and had to take a job at the local hotel as a maid in order to make enough money to feed her kids. Her work ethic and that of my father was ingrained in my sister, my brother and me at an early age.
Once I got to high school, I decided that I would get my education so that I could become a high school teacher and coach and have a secure job!
I never considered any other occupation. Coaching has never been a job to me - it has been a labor of love.
I have so many people to thank for giving me the opportunity to be honored here tonight.
Since it is not possible under the time constraints to name all the people individually, I am going to recognize some groups but I know the individuals will know who they are and how important they have been in my life.
Firstly: To my high school coaches Fritz Engel and Harold Poier who are no longer with us, thanks for your guidance and support. To Ernie Anderson and Edoc Nelson, my college coaches, thank you for your patience in seeing me through to my degree.
Secondly: To all my players from twelve years of coaching in high schools in Minnesota and California, I say, thank you for helping a young coach grow up.
To my players from four great years at Long Beach City College, I say thank you for your successes which accorded me an opportunity to move up to the Division I level.
To my players for my one year at Long Beach State, 9 years at Iowa and now starting my 20th year at Arizona, I say thanks for putting up with my idiosyncrasies. (By the way, for those of you in the audience who may be struggling with your math, that adds up to 46 years in coaching!)
To all of you players, I say thank you for all you have done for my family and for me. I want to thank you for teaching me far more than I could ever teach you.
Thirdly: I want to thank all my assistant coaches and the support staffs whose dedication, loyalty and hard work made it possible for our programs to succeed.
Once I got to the college level, they helped recruit players who were good people with an intense desire to succeed. We followed a very basic concept regardless of whether one is in athletics, business or any line of work - good people will find a way to be successful. We have always recruited good people.
Two very special thank you's go to Lydia Burch and Jim Rosborough.
Lydia has been my secretary for nearly all of my years at Arizona. Her effort and faithfulness always goes beyond my expectations.
Jim is my associate head coach. He was with me for nine years at Iowa and for the last fourteen years at Arizona. He has been one of the main reasons why the Iowa and Arizona programs have been successful.
Jim, I especially appreciate your friendship and companionship over those 23 years.
Fourthly: I want to thank the five athletic directors for whom I have worked during my thirty-four years at the college level.
To Del Walker at Long Beach City College who gave me my big break allowing me the opportunity to move from high school coaching to the college level. I'm especially grateful knowing that Del put his own job on the line to insist that I should be his coach or the administration could look for both an athletic director and a basketball coach.
To Lou Comer at Long Beach State - thank you for giving me my first opportunity at the Division I level.
To Bump Elliott at the University of Iowa who had to put up with the "Lute Who?" responses after he hired me. Thank you.
To Cedric Dempsey who had faith in my ability to turn the Arizona program around. Thank you for that faith.
To my current boss and special friend, Jim Livengood, you didn't have any choice but I'm happy it l has worked out for both of us.
To all of you gentlemen, thanks for standing behind me and for giving me the support I needed to run a successful program.
Fifthly: Thanks to the fans at all the schools at which I've been privileged to work. Thanks for the tremendous support of all our teams. Through the years we have been blessed with fans who participated in the games rather than just being spectators.
Thanks also to my extended family and friends. I have appreciated your caring support and for always being there for me.
I have obviously saved the best for last and that is to thank my wonderful family.
I have been blessed with unconditional love and support from our five children. Vicki, Jody, Christi, Greg and Steve have been with me through thick and thin. Whether there were big wins or disheartening losses, they were there lending their support and encouragement. Most of the time they even felt that I knew what I was doing!
The same love and support has come from the thirteen grandchildren as well. They range in age from the twenties to Bobby, the youngest who is three. Thank you kids for thinking that Papa is O.K.
Now, the most difficult thank you, and I hope you'll bear with me on this one.
To Bobbi, my wife of forty-seven years. She is truly the Hall of Famer in our family.
I married Bobbi when she was eighteen before she was old enough to know what she was getting into. Like she loved saying. I chased her until she couldn't run any more and she finally agreed to marry me.
She worked to put me through school since my scholarship only covered tuition. In addition, Vicki, was born while I was still in college.
Bobbi was the real head coach, the #1 recruiter and the team Mom. Every player who has ever played for me knows these things to be true.
Bobbi was my inspiration, my #1 supporter, my true love and my best friend. She was truly the wind beneath my wings.
I know she is looking down on this very special occasion and loving every minute of it.
On behalf of my players, my assistants, our fans and our family - thank you for this honor."