This Day In Sports: Not close – the ‘Great One’ is the greatest

April 16, 1999, 25 years ago today: After a landmark 20-year career in the NHL, Wayne Gretzky announces his retirement. Gretzky’s pro career started at the age of 17 and peaked during his years with the Edmonton Oilers and L.A. Kings, as he won 10 NHL scoring titles. The “Great One” is hockey’s all-time scoring leader—by almost 1,000 points. Gretzky’s no. 99 is the only uniform number to be retired across the entire NHL (just like Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 in Major League Baseball).

According to a career profile at, Gretzky was first introduced to the sport at the age of two in Brantford, Ontario. His father, Walter, had built a rink in the family’s backyard. (To this day, Walter Gretzky is often referred to as “Canada’s Hockey Dad.”) By the time he was five years old, the younger Gretzky’s finesse was becoming apparent. You can’t teach the instinct he was born with, as he read passing angles and anticipated the direction of the puck like no other. He also had the inherent gift of avoiding hard checks by opponents.

Gretzky was known as the Great One before he even laced up an NHL skate. He was given that nickname in junior hockey’s Ontario Hockey League. Gretzky made what is considered his NHL his debut in 1978 with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association before being traded to Edmonton. He was with the Oilers when they were absorbed into the NHL. It seems impossible in today’s game, as Canadian teams experience Stanley Cup futility year after year (no team from north of the border has won it all in more than 30 years), but Gretzky led Edmonton to four championships.

After the 1988 Stanley Cup title, Gretzky was shockingly traded to the Los Angeles Kings, a sleepy franchise that was immediately transformed. It caused a lot of consternation in Canada, to the point that a member of Parliament demanded that the government block the trade. But off Gretzky went. He made hockey popular in California and led the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. Gretzky later had a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Blues before spending his final three seasons with the New York Rangers.

Gretzky, who scored 2,857 career points, is the only player in NHL history to notch 200 points in a single season—and he did it four times. Upon his retirement, the waiting period for the Hockey Hall of Fame was waived, and he was inducted immediately. No one has come close to knocking Gretzky off his perch as the greatest player in the sport’s history.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *