1997 Wildcats, Tucson celebrate title all over again
TUCSON, Ariz. -- This time, there was no muss. And, of course, no fuss over Arizona's 84-79 overtime win over Kentucky in the 1997 NCAA championship game.
For an estimated 1,000 Arizona fans revisiting the school's one and only basketball title, it was pure enjoyment, even if there was a "spoiler alert" attached to the big-screen showing at Fox Theater in downtown Tucson.
"I'm just happy to see that people are (still) happy to see us," said Donnell Harris.
Despite knowing the outcome, there was applause for every basket and free throw as the crowd cheered on its favorite champion Friday night.
"It's great watching this," Miles Simon said in the middle of a timeout during overtime. "I'm still kind of anxious and nervous; I don't know if we win or not. Seeing my teammates and seeing how hard they are fighting and how each member of the coaching staff was pulling for each other, that's the memory that will (last)."
And, of course, there was a standing ovation for Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson.
The only things missing were a few players -- Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Michael Dickerson -- and a repeat messing of Olson's hair by former goofball forward Bennett Davison, who famously pulled off the stunt shortly after Arizona wrapped up the title game on that March night in '97.
"Coach, will you stand up here for a second?" Davison called to Olson while on stage, with the crowd cheering for a possible hair-messing moment.
But it didn't happen.
"Thank you for the experience, the fatherhood and gathering us; we are all here because of you, and I won't mess up your hair," said Davison. "It's too pretty ... (but) thank you, coach."
It was just one of the many highlights in what turned out to be a four-hour celebration of the night Tucson as the University of Arizona celebrated one of its greatest moments (if not the greatest) in sports history. Organizer Joseph Blair, a player from 1991-95, helped organize the night benefiting the Primavera Foundation and the Blair Charity Group. More than $15,000 was raised.
"It's great that J.B. put this together, but it's (also) great to see so many of the guys here," Olson said. "It's great what they did."
For Olson, who earlier this week celebrated his 79th birthday, and the rest of the assembled players as well as former assistant head coach Jim Rosborough, it was the first time they'd sat down and watched the game in its entirety.
Sixteen and a half years later, the winning and team camaraderie meant everything, the players said as they went on stage at different moments during game cutaways.
"We had the teamwork, the defense, the great coaching -- we had it all," said Gene Edgerson, a key freshman then. "I'd never want to trade (that) moment for any other moment outside of getting married."
Reserve Justin Wessel said his memory remains the united "family environment."
"Coach was able to combine all these different backgrounds from different parts of the country," he said. "That's why we won."
Said A.J. Bramlett: "I love these guys like brothers. That'll never change. When we see each other, we try to be together or try to make that happen."
Olson said his recollection of the game included Kentucky "holding onto their shorts" plenty at the end of the game, indicating they were tired near the end; Arizona handling Kentucky's much-talked-about press fairly easily; and telling his players that the "toughest-minded team is going to win."
He added, "I knew who that was and I think they knew who that was. This thing was as good as over."
When the night was over, Blair finally could relax.
"It was good to see the community come out and see the love they have for this team," Blair said. "And for the guys, they showed how much they enjoyed being back here. It's a great testament how much Tucson means to all the players."