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Etess belongs on the state's Rushmore of sports

In recent years, sports discussions — frequent homages to decibels and ramblings — often consider the "Rushmore" template. Who, for example, belongs on the Rushmore of Connecticut sports history?

If we can agree that Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma are unanimous and on the first ballot, then here is a modest proposal for No. 3:

Mitchell Etess.

Who is Mitchell Etess? For my $.02, the brains behind the now 25-year success of Mohegan Sun. And if Jim and Geno introduced Connecticut to the world, Etess introduced the world to Connecticut.

Etess has officially retired as the former top Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment executive and later the senior adviser to the Mohegan Tribe and as chief executive officer of the Connecticut Sun. His legacy flies far beyond merely bringing the WNBA here, but waving the flag to build a 10,000-seat arena that has redefined entertainment in our state.

Put it this way: There is a concrete wall just outside one of the tunnels that leads to the arena floor. Virtually every act that has played Mohegan Sun has signed it, creating this impromptu, historical shrine to Mohegan Sun's influence. It is also Mitchell Etess' everlasting resume.

His resume otherwise reads in part that he joined Mohegan Sun before its 1996 opening, serving as senior vice president of marketing. In 2004, he became president and CEO of the casino and in 2006 also became president and CEO of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (since renamed Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment). Etess became CEO of the basketball team in 2003, and relinquished his role as president and CEO of Mohegan Sun in 2011.

Etess combined his numerous connections from sports and entertainment with daily, unspoken effort that turned the Connecticut woods a national destination. Mohegan Sun (and Foxwoods) became de facto reference points for Connecticut, which heretofore had been known for the misery of clogged roads between New York and Boston.

LeBron played basketball in the House That Etess Built. Billy Joel sang here 10 times. Springsteen was here. The Eagles. U2. College basketball. WNBA All-Star games and draft nights. Mike and the Mad Dog. High school championships. There can't be another venue in the world where small-town kids from places like Putnam and Killingly played basketball on the same floor as LeBron James.

Utterly cool ... and not possible without Etess.

Now for the best part: Etess' job, position and influence could afflict many human beings with dizzying levels of self-importance. And yet Etess did "aw shucks" by habit, not reaction.

My favorite memories of him come from the old days with the Sun. He would stand at the forefront of the tunnel across from the opposing bench and cheer on his players without apology. This of course also came with critiques of officials. He was on his game one night when one of the refs approached a blue-jacketed security guard, asking the identity of the loud guy in the suit.

The security guard, knowing Etess was the Big Boss, turned to the official and deadpanned, "I've never seen him before in my life."

Etess was also the Old Lyme girls' basketball team's biggest fan for many years while daughters Maxie and Piper played there. Etess volunteered to keep the scorebook, knowing he'd have to force himself to behave at the table. Among my happiest memories came in 2005 when Old Lyme finally exorcised the ghosts of Morgan to win the Shoreline championship.

Maxie Etess scored 11 points in that game. She shared a long embrace with her coach, Don Bugbee, after the game, one of the few times Etess put down the trophy. I happened to glance at the dad while daughter and coach shared the moment. I had a moment myself. Imagine: This guy who can negotiate a deal with Springsteen is so ... human.

Etess is but 63, meaning he has many years of retirement to share with his wife, Karen, the girls and their families. There will be plenty of golf and yelling at the TV during Sun games.

His retirement cannot pass without comment. He is among the most influential figures in the history of our state. And he did it all with an enviable demeanor.

Happy retirement to one of the good guys. Who made Connecticut something great.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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