Tucson, UA get first screening of film ‘Lute’

click to enlarge Tucson, UA get first screening of film ‘Lute’
(Podium Pictures/Courtesy)
Former UA Men’s basketball player Gilbert Arenas, left, shares his story with director Brett Rapkin of his 1999 to 2001 seasons under the tutelage of Lute Olson.

“Lute,” a documentary by Podium Pictures honoring the legacy of legendary UA men’s basketball coach, Lute Olson, will hold its world premiere at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at Centennial Hall.

Shown ahead of the annual UA Red-Blue Game, the film is a definitive documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker/producer Brett Rapkin, a UA alum, that celebrates Olson on the 25th anniversary of the Cats’ 1997 national championship. 

Olson’s career with the Wildcats spanned decades and racked up four Final Four appearances, 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and 11 Pac-10 titles, aside from the 1997 national championship. Olson became one of the greatest coaches in college basketball, compiling a 781-280 career record and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022.

“The history of Arizona basketball is so rich,” Rapkin said. “And there are so many NBA stars and great people who have come out of the Arizona basketball program. It is always a great opportunity to tell a story that is about somebody building something from the ground up.”

Rapkin explained when Olson arrived in Tucson, the team had its worst season; they won four games.

“What a lot of people don’t know is he came from the University of Iowa where he had gone to the final four,” Rapkin said. “So, he already had some success”

In the early 1980s, Olson quickly rebuilt the basketball program from the ground up, making appearances at the 1988 and 1994 NCAA Final Four. The scrappy 1997 team was led by future NBA players Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Miles Simon,

Olson’s 1997 championship Wildcat team was nicknamed the “Cardiac Cats” — with cause. 

“They really won in dramatic fashion,” Rapkin said. “A significant portion of this film details their tournament run in 1997. Every game would give you a heart attack, right down to the national tournament where they won in overtime.”

This documentary weaves the arc of Olson’s coaching career with a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the building of the 1997 national championship team and its unlikely run through March Madness. The film features interviews from the likes of Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Bibby, Terry (an executive producer of the documentary), Kenny Lofton, Andre Iguodala, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye and is narrated by former Wildcat player and NBA star, Luke Walton. 

Walton, Rapkin added, was hesitant about narrating.

“He said, ‘You should ask Richard (Jefferson), he likes the sound of his own voice a lot more than I do,’” Rapkin recalled.

Rapkin said he reponded with, “‘Come on Luke, you sound like Tom Petty. You’ll be great.’”

Terry and the UA athletic department introduced former Wildcat and NBA star players to Rapkin to help with the documentary.

“For the players, when they found out this was happening…there is so much love for Lute and for Bobbi (Olson’s wife who died January 2001 of cancer),” Rapkin explained. “They wanted to participate.”

The film was primarily funded through a donation for the project by former UA alum and executive producer Andrew Braccia and his wife, Kirsten 

“Kirsten and I are thrilled to play a small role in helping to bring Lute’s story to life,” Braccia said. “Lute’s lasting impact on his family, his players, the University of Arizona community and the game of college basketball will forever be cherished.”

Rapkin said the story cannot be told without Bobbi, Olson’s high school sweetheart.

“Bobbi is a huge part of this story,” he said. “You can’t tell this story about Lute’s era with Arizona basketball, without including Bobbi, she was such a pivotal figure.”

One of the biggest challenges of making this document, Rapkin said, was taking four decades of the coach’s story and condensing it into a one-hour film.

“One of the themes we really tried to instill, most people don’t know this but, Lute lost both his brother and his father in farming accidents, when he was young,” Rapkin explained. “So, I think building a family atmosphere was something that he was trying to do to regain that sense of family.”

The film took about two years to make, Rapkin explained. He said the seed was planted right after the coach’s death in August 2020. 

“There has never been an ESPN ‘30 for 30’ or an HBO sports documentary about this story of this man, of (him) building a perennial contender in this desert town,” he said.

“Lute” sneak peek screening

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30

WHERE: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Boulevard, Tucson

COST: $15 students; $20 alums; $30 general admission; $500 VIP. A portion of the ticket sales will benefit the Lute Olson Endowment for Excellence in Men’s Basketball

INFO: ticketmaster.com

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