17 Amazing Stories About Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky has been in the news since he was 10, when he scored 378 goals in a season. Twenty years after his retirement in 1999, he remains Canada's most famous athlete. But Gretzky is more than a Canadian icon.
His popularity while playing with the Los Angeles Kings is credited with igniting NHL expansion in unlikely hockey locales like San Jose, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Miami, Tampa Bay and Nashville. Recently, the Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star hired Wayne Gretzky as a global ambassador to promote hockey in China.
More than any other hockey player, Gretzky is an international icon. There's nobody like "The Great One."
Not Everyone Loved Him
When Wayne Gretzky was 6, he was playing with 10-year-olds in his hometown of Brantford, Ontario. When he was 10, he scored 378 goals in a season.
This achievement should've been a cause of celebration, but some of his teammates' parents became jealous, booing him and calling him a "puck hog."
The pressure was so intense, a 13-year-old Gretzky considered quitting hockey. But the next season, his parents arranged for him to move to and play in Toronto, in part to get away from the negativity of his spotlight.
He Wanted to Play Baseball First
At 13, Gretzky pitched for Brantford at a 1973 Peewee Baseball tournament. In fact, the hockey legend wanted to be a baseball player first.
"I would've taken baseball all day long," Gretzky told Dan Patrick in 2017, revealing his preferred position was shortstop. "I grew up such a big Tigers fan."
The Oilers Got an Early Introduction
Gretzky was 17 when he signed his first pro contract with the NHL's rival league, the World Hockey Association.
At the time, the NHL did not allow players under 20 to be drafted or to sign contracts.
The WHA's Indianapolis Racers took advantage, and the teen scored his first pro goal against the franchise that he would lead to four Stanley Cups.
Soap Operas Came Calling
Gretzky loved soap operas, and in November 1981, he made a guest appearance on "The Young and the Restless," playing a mobster introduced as, "This is Wayne, out of our Edmonton operation."
In the scene, he was bantering with Melody Thomas Scott, who was playing Nikki Reed.
Wayne: Sure could use some of your class around home, Nikki.
Nikki: Thank you. Are you just visiting, Mr. ...?
Wayne: Call me Wayne. Everybody does.
Andy Warhol Painted His Portrait
Andy Warhol was commissioned in 1983 to paint a series of Wayne Gretzky portraits.
According to Sports Illustrated, Warhol was a New York Rangers fan, but this didn't cause any friction between the artist and the Oilers superstar.
Warhol told the CBC that year, "He’s more than a hockey player. He’s an entertainer."
His Fuel? Hot Dogs and Diet Coke
Gretzky told People in 1982, "I play best on four hot dogs with mustard and onions."
He wasn't joking. The NHL's leading all-time scorer told Graham Bensinger in 2016, "Depending on the city we were in, in Chicago, there'd be pizza in the building. In Quebec City, there would be hot dogs."
Gretzky added, "In those days, we didn't have Power Bars. Energy drinks. For me, I drank Diet Coke. That was the same sort of stimulation as an energy drink."
He Once Peed Himself During a Game
The 1987 Canada Cup brought together the best players from two international powerhouses, Canada and the Soviet Union, for a memorable three-game championship series.
Some people consider Game 2 to be the greatest hockey game ever played. Gretzky had five assists as Canada pulled it out in double overtime, 6-5.
According to Greatest Hockey Legends, an exhausted Gretzky lost control of his bodily functions in the first overtime.
"Just as Gretzky realized what was going on, one of the coaches told him to get ready, he was to be going into action at the next chance. Somehow he formed enough energy to go back out and play another shift."
The Canadian Government Wanted to Block Gretzky's Trade to Los Angeles
At the height of Gretzky's powers, the Edmonton Oilers traded him to the Los Angeles Kings in August 1988.
New Democratic Party House Leader Nelson Riis demanded that the federal government block the deal.
"How can we allow the sale of our national symbols?" he railed. "The Edmonton Oilers without Wayne Gretzky is like apple pie without ice cream, like winter without snow, like the 'Wheel of Fortune' without Vanna White — it's quite simply unthinkable."
Gretzky Was Babysitting Robin Thicke When He Found Out About the Trade
Wayne Gretzky, along with his wife, Janet, was house-sitting at his friend Alan Thicke's house when the trade to Los Angeles was finalized.
According to TSN, Kings owner Bruce McNall called the house, asking for Gretzky. The 11-year-old who picked up wasn't sure if he should admit that Gretzky was staying there.
That 11-year-old was Alan's son, Robin, now a successful singer-songwriter and record producer.
After Going Hollywood, He Went 'Live From New York'
In 1989, Gretzky became the first hockey player to host "Saturday Night Live." But he was the last to know that he was hosting SNL.
Years later, Gretzky told Conan O'Brien, "I was on an airplane flying from L.A. to Kentucky to watch the Kentucky Derby. I was reading the paper and it said 'Wayne Gretzky to host Saturday Night Live.' I just pulled down the paper and looked at my wife and said, 'Nooo.' "
Gretzky had turned down the invitation to host the show, but Janet Gretzky called SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels to confirm his appearance.
He was happy she did. During the Season 14 show, Wayne stopped by "Wayne's World" (of course) and showed off his comedic chops.
Then He Fought Crime with Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson
In 1991, NBC debuted a short-lived cartoon, "ProStars," which featured Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Bo Jackson as superhero-athlete crimefighters.
The superstar trio also recorded live-action sequences, which ran before each episode.
The series only lasted one season, but it's just another testament to the magnitude of Gretzky's celebrity.
Gretzky Won Dozens of Awards, But Kept Only One Trophy — the One He Didn't Win
In the 1998-99 season, the NHL started awarding the Rocket Richard Trophy to the league's highest goal scorer. At that point in his playing career, Gretzky was a shadow of his prime. He scored just nine goals in what would be the final season of his career.
That year, the trophy's namesake, legendary Montreal Canadiens sniper Maurice "The Rocket" Richard met with Gretzky, telling him, "You know, Wayne, you're never going to win this trophy. But you should have one for all the goals that you scored."
Gretzky retired as the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer with 894. Had the Richard Trophy been awarded in his heyday, he would've taken it home five times.
Gretzky wrote in his book, "99: Stories of the Game," why Richard's gift meant so much to him, "It was true [that I'd never win it]. The older we get, the more honest we get as players. I was so excited that he had given it to me and taken the time to give it to me, that it’s the only trophy I kept."
Money Wasn't Everything
On April 15, 1999, Gretzky officially announced his retirement.
But the day before, Rangers owner James Dolan begged Gretzky to reconsider. Dolan put his money where his mouth was, offering Gretzky $1 million to take a week to think about it. Gretzky would be allowed to keep the money, no matter his final decision.
Gretzky told Dolan, "In good conscience, I just can't take your money. Because I know I'm done."
Gretzky joked to Bensinger in 2016, "It was the dumbest thing I've ever done, right? But that's just how classy their organization was."
So He Taught Michael Jordan How to Tip in Las Vegas
Former vice president of the Hard Rock Hotel Rich Strafella tells the story:
"I remember a night when Wayne Gretzky insulted Michael Jordan at the table. It was a private salon game.
Michael had ordered a drink from the cocktail waitress, and he gave her a five-dollar chip. Wayne took it off the cocktail waitress’s tray, gave it back to Michael, grabbed a hundred-dollar chip from Michael’s stack and put it on the cocktail waitress’s tray.
Then he said, 'That’s how we tip in Las Vegas, Michael.' "
Post-Retirement, Gretzky Finally Got Into Baseball
Gretzky was drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Cubs in 2011. Wayne's son, Trevor, that is.
While the outfielder never played above Single-A, the Gretzkys always will have the memory of the day that Trevor was drafted, a singular accomplishment unto itself.
Gretzky told ESPN in 2011, "We are so proud of him. I could tell he was real nervous today. When the Cubs GM called, that was really exciting. I told Trevor, 'I can't really relate. I was never drafted.' "
Trevor Gretzky is now acting, appearing recently in action thriller "Mile 22."
Wayne Gretzky also is staying busy in retirement, developing products offered by Wayne Gretzky Estates, like No. 99 Rye Lager beer.
He'll Always Be 'The Great One'
Over 20 seasons, Gretzky netted 894 goals and 1,963 assists for 2,857 points.
Jaromir Jagr is second all-time with 1,921 points.
Gretzky is the only NHL player ever with 200 points in a season, and he did it four times.
There's a reason why he's called "The Great One."
Even If He's Not 'The Greatest'
Gretzky was "The Great One," but Muhammad Ali made sure to let him know that there was somebody greater, namely himself.
Gretzky told Dan Patrick about the first time he met "The Greatest" in 1983, laughing, "He came into the locker room and said he was looking for the Great One. Because I’m not the great one ... because he’s the greatest of all time. ... [T]hat’s fair enough by me and good for you."
To this day, the hockey legend remains a class act.