Every job has its perks.
A golf caddy gets to play a free round or two, a sommelier gets to sample exotic wines, a heart surgeon gets to fiddle around inside an open chest.
Does that compare to what Brandon Miller gets?
Miller got to put on Lute Olson’s tie and blazer, and for a University of Arizona graduate, really, is there anything better? Keep the golf, wine and real-life game of Operation — Miller got to feel a piece of Lute.
Turns out, you can, too.
Partially because of his university ties, Miller — the brand manager in charge of basketball and football for the Upper Deck Company — set out to acquire some of Olson’s iconic clothing for a just-
released multi-sport product, 2014 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions, and for soon-to-come basketball card offerings.
“Obviously I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for anything U of A, but it goes beyond that,” Miller said. “Lute, who he is, the impact he’s had on his program — I felt the impact firsthand when I was going to school there. I looked up to him. He was one of the best.”
This is not the first time an Arizona coach has been immortalized on cardboard by Upper Deck — Sean Miller had cards in 2010-11 Upper Deck SP Authentic and 2010 Upper Deck World of Sports and a special autograph card in 2011-12 Upper Deck Fleer Retro basketball — and Olson has had several cards from second-tier companies such as Press Pass and Leaf, including autographs. He even has appeared on an Upper Deck card in the past, albeit just his signature.
But he has never had a memorabilia card, and that in itself was alluring to Brandon Miller, who attended Arizona in the early 2000s. After a successful run with current coaches following a deal with the National Association of Basketball Coaches in the early 2010s — including Sean Miller, former UCLA head coach Ben Howland, Ohio State coach Thad Matta and more — Brandon Miller wanted to dip back into history for upcoming products.
Miller, who works closely with The Collegiate Licensing Company — Upper Deck currently has no deal the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball, so it releases college-oriented products in those three sports — reached out to the licensing department at Arizona. Miller was told Olson would reach out if interested.
Olson was, and Miller secured autograph and image rights for upcoming products such as 2014-15 SP Authentic and the company’s most premium line, Upper Deck Exquisite. He then wanted to do one better.
Now, cutting up pieces of history is an established process in the sports card business, and Miller — no relation to the UA’s current coach — expects Olson’s tie and blazer to yield roughly 600-1,100 pieces that can then be affixed to cards.
That will allow Arizona fans to be able to touch a piece of history themselves.
Miller, for example, even though he’s already done it.
And then some.
Normally the boxes of personally worn items are shipped directly to the Upper Deck operations employees who then cut the jerseys, shoes, hats, ties, coats — really, whatever — into the small pieces.
Not this time.
Miller admits he wanted to be able to touch and feel the clothes that Olson wore as he paced the McKale Center court. Miller admits he’s a homer. He admits he slipped on the jacket and tie.
“In my role, we get to run into a lot of athletes, talk to a lot, even entertainers, but there are only a few even big names who get me,” Miller said. “The Lute one was a big one.”
Still want that round of golf, caddy?