Like the mysterious Illuminati, the committee that votes for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame is shrouded in secrecy.
There is no known list of members. There is no reasoning given for their actions. And for all that is known, they could have also sworn a blood oath.
For the past 20 years it seemed that oath was likely along the lines of, “We shall control the flow of the righteous few into our hallowed halls, except for Eddie Sutton. He stays out.”
Like many mysterious organizations, this one does not focus on the greater good, but on themselves.
Despite mountains of evidence proving Sutton’s place in the Hall of Fame, and years of some of the most influential figures in college basketball pushing for him being immortalized in the Hall, finally in his twilight years the voters conceded his place in the sport that those who have followed it have known.
This is most certainly a time to celebrate for Eddie and his family, along with his extended Oklahoma State family. But it’s also a reminder of the wrongs that the committee have inflicted.
Six times previously, Sutton’s named reach the level of finalist – which was both far too many, and far too few – and was left snubbed.
And perhaps the most tragic of circumstances from these blatant disregard for the history of the sport, is that this moment can’t properly be cherished by Sutton – whose health as deteriorated over the years – nor with his late wife Patsy, who passed away in 2013. Three times before her passing did the committee have a chance to do the right thing – with the fourth time coming a year after her passing.
Two of those instances were while he was still coaching at Oklahoma State – back-to-back years before the program’s run to the Final Four in 2004. And even despite yet another Final Four run, it took another three years before he became a finalist again in 2007.
But that’s what also makes this moment even more grandeur for the Suttons and Oklahoma State.
Despite the unjust reasons the Hall of Fame kept him out, he and those around him never allowed it to define just how important he was to the game and those he impacted through it.
“What ought to be pointed out is nowhere along this frustrating journey did the fact that he didn’t get in ever define his value and his importance and his legendary status for his family and the Oklahoma State family,” said Tom Dirato, former Oklahoma State men’s basketball radio broadcaster who also produced the Eddie Sutton Show. “There was never any wavering there, even during the six previous times he was denied.”
Since the first year Sutton was a finalist and was left out in 2002, there were four retired Division I coaches elected into the HOF with fewer overall wins than Sutton – though three of them (Nolan Richardson, Lute Olson and Gary Williams) at least have a national championship that eluded the former OSU coach who made three Final Four appearances. Even one of his protégés, Bill Self, was voted in before Sutton – and used a portion of his speech as a platform to promote Sutton’s place in the history of basketball.
This weekend is a grand occasion for Eddie and all his players from Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State, as well as his family. But it’s also a reminder of the dark political game played on both he and all those people for the past 20 years.
And it’s a shame.
The Naismith Hall of Fame is supposed to be about the greatness of the sport of basketball. And now that this injustice has come to an end, the Hall can truly work toward being just that.
And to quote nearly every OSU fan and former Sutton player when the news broke Friday, “It’s about damn time!”
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater News Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.