Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate PHNX Sports Community!

Closing the books on Lute Olson’s Wildcats in the NBA

Anthony Gimino Avatar
October 27, 2023
Lute Olson celebrates the 1997 national championship. (Photo: Arizona Athletics)

A new NBA season has begun. Lute Olson’s legacy of active Arizona players in the NBA has ended.

Starting with Pete Williams in 1985 and finishing with Andre Iguodala’s retirement last week, the Olson-era Wildcats were represented on NBA courts for nearly four decades.

Game played: 14,302

Points scored: 146,968

Salary earned: $1,156,252,689

I started faithfully tracking the burgeoning collective NBA salaries of ex-Wildcats under Olson almost two decades ago, piecing together information from the USA Today salary database and various news reports. Over time, it became easier and more consistent to just use the numbers provided by basketball-reference.com near the bottom of each player page.

My final numbers differ in a couple of cases.

The salary on basketball-reference.com doesn’t seem to fully take into account money owed Gilbert Arenas from Orlando when the Magic waived him in December 2011 under the NBA’s amnesty clause so that he wouldn’t count against their salary cap. And the Grizzlies owed Michael Dickerson money after injuries prematurely ended his NBA career in October 2003.

Iguodala ends as the salary leader among Lute recruits: $188,802,040. He also takes home the title as the leader in rebounds (6,047), steals (1,765) and blocks (633).

Other notable leaders:

  • Jason Terry: Games (1,410), points (18,881), field goals (6,914) and 3-pointers (2,282)
  • Arenas: Points per game (20.7)
  • Richard Jefferson: Free throws made (3,562)
  • Mike Bibby: Assists (5,517)
  • Damon Stoudamire: Assists per game (6.1)
  • Bison Dele: Rebounds per game (6.2)

And now … you can check out the whole spreadsheet of Olson’s players in the NBA, with salaries and all manner of stats. It’s all there, from Iggy to Othick.

(I did not include players who transferred from Arizona but later played in the NBA, such as Will Bynum. And, sadly, Jerryd Bayless does not qualify because Olson retired right before his freshman season, and he ended up being coached by Kevin O’Neill for his one season. I can always add them in.)

Nine of Olson’s ex-Cats have a combined 19 championship rings:

  • Steve Kerr (Bulls: 1996, ’97, ’98; Spurs: ’99, ’03)
  • Andre Iguodala (Warriors: 2015, ’17, 18, ‘22)
  • Jud Buechler (Bulls: 1996, ’97 and ’98)
  • Luke Walton (Lakers: 2009, ’10)
  • Bison Dele (Bulls: 1997)
  • Sean Elliott (Spurs: 1999)
  • Jason Terry (Mavericks: 2011)
  • Richard Jefferson (Cavaliers: 2016)
  • Channing Frye (Cavaliers: 2016)

Anyway, as we close the book on Olson’s active NBA players from Arizona — many carry on as coaches and broadcasters — let’s imagine how the best of the best would align if we put them into three actual, legit playable lineups.

Lute Olson: Arizona’s All-NBA first team

  • G: Jason Terry
  • G: Gilbert Arenas
  • F: Sean Elliott
  • F: Andre Iguodala
  • C: Bison Dele

The toughest call is at point guard, but I’ll give the nod to Terry over Mike Bibby due to his longevity and 2011 title. Arenas’ star burned brighter than any Wildcat ever in the NBA; he was arguably a top five player in the world by the time he was 25. But he played in only 204 games after averaging 28.4 points for Washington in 2007-08.

Elliott was a two-time All-Star, including in his best season of 1995-96 when he averaged 20.0 points per game, but injuries – and later a kidney transplant – robbed him of the chance of repeating that kind of season. Although let’s never forget the Memorial Day Miracle in 1999. Iguodala: Will he be the only Hall of Famer among Lute’s crew? He was a unique player who might be able to make a unique case.

At center, we are going with Dele (formerly Brian Williams). This is not the “Lute recruits” strongest position, but we’ll take Dele and hope to catch him on one of the days when he was truly motivated.

Lute Olson: Arizona’s All-NBA second team

  • G: Mike Bibby
  • G: Damon Stoudamire
  • F: Richard Jefferson
  • F: Chris Mills
  • C: Jordan Hill

This unit remains strong with stalwarts Bibby and Stoudamire (a combined 1,879 NBA games) in the backcourt. Jefferson twice averaged more than 20 points per game in a season. Mills twice averaged more than 15 points in a season. Hill was mostly solid over eight seasons, and it seems fitting that he lands here as he represents the last recruit spotted by the keen eye of Olson as an under-the-radar prospect who made good.

Lute Olson: Arizona’s All-NBA third team

  • G: Steve Kerr
  • G: Michael Dickerson
  • F: Luke Walton
  • F: Channing Frye
  • C: Sean Rooks

Kerr remains the NBA’s career leader in 3-point shooting accuracy (45.4 percent, 726 of 1,599), plus he’s got four NBA Finals rings as coach of the Golden State Warriors to add to his five as a player. Dickerson is the biggest “What if?” among the ex-Cats, averaging 15.4 points in 212 career games before being stopped by injuries. Walton was valued for doing a little bit of everything for 10 seasons. Frye turned himself into a stretch big man, hitting 38.8 percent from 3 after having a red light to shoot from beyond the arc at Arizona. Rooks played in 749 games across 12 NBA seasons.

Follow Anthony Gimino on X

Top photo: Lute Olson celebrates Arizona’s 1997 national championship (Photo: Arizona Athletics)

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article