Lifelong University of Utah sports fan Gary Swensen, left, talks Ute hoops with Arnie Ferrin, seated far left, and Ferrin's 1944 NCAA championship teammates Wat Misaka and Herb Wilkinson during 2012 book signing event. (Photo by Gordon Swensen)
Before ‘Jimmer.’ Before ‘Taysom’. Even before ‘LaVell’ – there was ‘Arnie’
A tribute to a Latter-day Saint hoops star who won NCAA, NIT and NBA titles.
Latter-day Saint basketball star Arnie Ferrin died on Dec. 27, 2022. He is one of only two men to have won NCAA, NIT and NBA championship titles. (Obituary photo)
By Jason Swensen
4 Jan 2023
A couple of years ago I accompanied my father, Gary, to a doctor’s appointment at the Intermountain HealthCare clinic in Salt Lake City.
My dad was not well. Diabetes, heart disease, a touch of dementia and the grumpy realities of age were ganging up on this once gregarious and curious man. Increasingly, my dad had become disengaged from much of the world moving about him.
It was hard to watch.
That changed, unexpectedly, for a brief moment at the IHC medical clinic.
After taking our seats in the crowded waiting room, I noticed an elderly gentleman with long legs and a distinguished head of silver hair that rivaled my dad’s.
My father’s dim eyes lit up the moment he spotted the man seated a few chairs away.
“I gotta go talk to this guy,” he told me, lifting himself out of his chair with great effort.
Slowly, he pushed his walker in the direction of the man, who greeted my father with an easy smile. He was clearly accustomed to being approached by strangers.
“You were my boyhood hero,” my father said, shaking the man’s extended hand.
Then, turning to me, he said, “Jason, this is Arnie Ferrin.”
Of course, Arnie Ferrin — a Latter-day sports icon who died Dec. 27, 2022, at age 97.
My hoops-loving brothers and I had been raised on my now-late father’s stories of Ferrin and his University of Utah basketball teammates: How the “Blitz Kids” from way out West had shocked the sports world by winning the 1944 NCAA men’s basketball championship in New York City. How my dad, then a little boy, envisioned storied Madison Square Garden in his young mind while listening to the title game on the living room radio in his Taylorsville, Utah, home. And how a lanky, high-scoring Latter-day Saint teen named “Arnie” led the Utes (then called the Redskins) and became the first freshman ever to be named the Final Four’s most outstanding player.
For Latter-day Saints sports fans like my dad — raised near the cusp of the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers — Ferrin enjoyed a place in the Latter-day Saint athlete Mount Rushmore that included boxing’s Gene Fullmer and baseball’s Harmon Killebrew and Vern Law.
Ferrin was perhaps the first Latter-day Saint athlete that fans referred to simply by their first names. Before “Jimmer,” before “Taysom,” and even before “LaVell”, there was “Arnie.”
In 2012, when Ferrin’s son and grandson, Tres and Josh Ferrin, penned the book “Blitz Kids” about Utah’s 1944 national championship run, my dad was one of the first in line to have his copy signed by Ferrin and his teammates, Wat Misaka and Herb Wilkinson. A treasured family photo captures my long-retired dad talking Ute hoops with a trio of men who enriched his childhood.
Ferrin’s basketball resume was not limited to the 1944 NCAA final. He also played on Utah’s 1947 NIT championship team and on two NBA title winning teams with the Minneapolis Lakers. He is one of only two basketball players to ever win the NCAA, NIT and NBA championships.
Ferrin was enshrined in the Utah Athletics Hall of Fame, the Utah Sports Hall of Fame and the National College Basketball Hall of Fame. His jersey #22 is retired by the University of Utah.
He was also a two-time semifinalist in the Utah State Amateur Golf Championship.
"Arnie Ferrin will forever be remembered not only as one of the most accomplished Utah athletes of all-time, but as a treasured member of the University of Utah family," said Utah athletic director Mark Harlan. "He made a lasting impact far beyond his athletic accomplishments — serving as athletics director for nine years and remaining a proud Utah Ute as he continued to support our athletic programs year after year.
“On a personal note, he was so kind to me and always there for helpful advice. I will miss him dearly.”
In his obituary, Ferrin is remembered as a “man of faith” with a deep love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“He enjoyed the community and connection he had within his Church and, among other callings, was honored to serve as a bishop to university students and as president of the Michigan Dearborn Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” the obituary noted.
File photo of Latter-day Saint basketball star Arnie Ferrin, center, and his University of Utah teammates. (University of Utah photo)