McKale Center was named in honor of J.F. "Pop" McKale, athletic director and coach of all sports at the University of Arizona for a time, a figure at the university from 1914 to 1957. McKale was head basketball coach of Arizona from 1914 to 1921, where he recorded a 49-12 record.
McKale is also credited with giving the university its nickname, the Wildcats. McKale coached the 1914 school football team that played a tough game against California champions Occidental College on Thanksgiving Day, where the press deemed the Arizona team Wildcats, and McKale ensured that the nickname remained.
Following the Arizona State University game on February 26 2000, the University of Arizona athletic department honored head coach Lute Olson with a ceremony to name the McKale Center floor, "Lute Olson Court". Then, during a memorial service in January of 2001 for Olson's late wife, Bobbi, it was renamed, "Lute and Bobbi Olson Court" in recognition of the couple's impact on the university and the city of Tucson.
In 2002, the Eddie Lynch Athletics Pavilion, a state-of-the-art medical and strength/conditioning facility for Wildcat student athletes, was completed and opened. The pavilion (which cost $14 million) was a 36,000 square foot addition to the north end of McKale Center. The upper level has a 10,000 square foot museum-like display area, open to the public, showcasing the history of Arizona Wildcat athletics.
McKale Center is the largest arena, in terms of capacity, in the Pac-10 conference.