MAY 1999 |
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Gretzky: The Most Dominant Player of the Century
On April 18th Wayne Gretzky played his final professional hockey game. He has played hockey since he could walk and has been a star in his sport since the age of six. That is over thirty years in the public eye. But the most impressive thing about Gretzky is not all of the records he broke or the championships that he won; a lot of athletes have broken records and won championships. No, the most impressive thing about Gretzky is the number zero. Yes, that's right zero. That number stands for the number of bad things that others have to say about the Great One. Every sportswriter, every reporter, every person who has come in contact with Gretzky over the course of his career can find nothing bad to say about him. There are no illegitimate children, no drugs, no spitting at fans - nothing. For an athlete that has been a pro since high school that is the most amazing number to me. In fact, the best we can do is to show footage of the one fight that Gretzky was ever in during his career or recount the time, in the eighties, when he called the New Jersey Devils a "Mickey Mouse organization." Five minutes with Dennis Rodman yields more than that.
Gretzky is arguably the most dominant athlete in this century. The numbers are unbelievable. He has more assists than any other hockey player has points. He broke the assists record in 13 less seasons than it took Gordie Howe to set the record. His single season record for points of 215 was a 41% increase over the previous record. He holds or shares over sixty records. And despite all of these records he looks like an average guy. He is of average height and weight (5'11" 175 lbs) does not like to lift weights and has never been the fastest guy on the ice. Maybe that is what makes Gretzky so appealing to so many people.
I often describe Gretzky to the non-hockey fan as a mix of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Imagine a basketball player who could score at will like Jordan, but also know where everyone else was on the floor at all times like Magic. This was Gretzky in his prime. In fact, any comparisons to other athletes do not do Gretzky justice. Of course, Gretzky will never tell you how great he is. Rick Reilly, Gretzky's biographer, recently wrote about how frustrating it was to write Gretzky's biography. Reilly could not get Gretzky to talk about himself. Yet we do not need Gretzky to talk about himself when so many others will. There are so many stories. We hear of his great compassion for the young fans of hockey, the way he mentors young teammates, the way he remembers everyone that has ever interviewed him. These stories astound not because Gretzky has done one great thing, but because he has always done all of the little things right. Gretzky came to hockey when it was essentially boxing on ice. He changed the game forever with his fluid skating and beautiful passing.
From now on when I hear my father or grandfather talk about what it was like to grow up watching Dimaggio, Mays, Mantle or Ali there will be no jealousy in my reply. For I will say that I had the privilege to grow up and watch one of the best ever, Wayne Gretzky. My only regret is that my kids will not be able to say the same thing.
ROB GALLO of Wethersfield, CT, is a staff writer and the movie guru of Renaissance Online Magazine.