This is the fifth Final Four appearance for Arizona coach Lute Olson. At this point, for Olson, the basketball will take care of itself. He knows how to prepare a team. That will take several hours a day. The hoopla surrounding modern sports events will eat up some more time.
But each morning, the alarm clock will ring. And each night, the hotel door will swing shut. And, for the first time in five Final Fours, Lute Olson will be alone.
|Bobbi Olson and Lute Olson celebrated Arizona's 1997 national title as a team. Bobbi Olson lost her 2½-year battle with cancer on Jan. 1.|
I met Bobbi Olson in 1988, the year of Danny Manning's rampage through the tournament. I interviewed Lute for CNN. Bobbi was nearby and we had a nice chat. A few days later, I got a handwritten note from her thanking me for covering Arizona basketball and her husband. She was the matriarch of Arizona University basketball and she relished the role. And, obviously, she was good at it.
In 1997, I saw Lute again and, after we greeted each other, my first question was not about basketball.
"Where's Bobbi?" I asked.
He smiled. "She's around," he said. "And she probably wants to talk to you."
Often in life we hear bittersweet stories of people who achieve great success but long for someone to share it with. So just imagine what Lute Olson is going through now. He had found his perfect partner. The right one. They had built a family together. They had helped to raise countless kids beyond their own as each freshman class showed up in the fall. They had worked through the lows and enjoyed the highs of Olson's high-profile, high-stress and high-reward job.
They had shared it all. And now she is gone.
This was her time too. So Olson's weekend will be filled with reminders of all the tournaments and basketball games that he shared with Bobbi. He'll see their old friends. During games, he'll look where she would be sitting if she could. He may even see her favorite dessert on a menu.
It will be hard, but he'll make it. Next Monday night may bring a championship to Lute Olson. It may also bring an end to this first stage of mourning for Lute Olson. He can go home, rest and prepare for this next stage of his life in privacy.
Olson's weekend will be filled with reminders of all the tournaments and basketball games that he shared with Bobbi.
A coach's wife is a special person. I think of Nell Wooden. Karen Knight. Bobbi Olson. They understand the highs and lows, the good calls and bad calls. They are partners.
John Wooden once told me that he wondered why he should go on living without his beloved Nell. Now, Wooden says that he no longer fears death because it will be the only way he can reunite with Nell. It took time but Wooden found his peace. Lute Olson will too.
It says a lot about Lute Olson that former players like Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott have been showing up at the tournament games. They, like many of Olson's friends, just know he may need a dinner partner, someone to walk and talk with. Someone to fill in the time that Lute Olson never even noticed when Bobbi was around.