FIRST Mike. Now Gretzky. What is it about the truly great ones that makes it so astonishing when they decide to step away from the games they play?
Great One was
greatest of all time
Jordan hung up his sneakers a few months back and now it appears Wayne Gretzky, the greatest team-sport athlete of the last 30 years, is calling it quits.
Speculation is rampant that Sunday will be the last game of Gretzky's unparalleled career. Gretzky even sounds as though he's ready.
Usually when a guy tells you, I'm not sure, we'll have to see how the next few days go, he already has made up his mind.
"His family is all going down to the game on Sunday (from Brantford, Ontario)," said Steve Tustin, sports editor of the Toronto Star.
"We're speculating. What are his motives?" Tustin continued. "He's going into the option year of his contract. The Rangers have said they'll pick it up. Does he want the Rangers to have a better team? Is he trying to do something with his contract?
"He can still play. He's not the same Gretzky as five or 15 years ago, but if he played for a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs he could still score 80 points.
"We'll find out as the week goes on. Does he want to play for a team like the New York Rangers if they're going to be as bad (as they were this year)? I don't think so."
HMMM. Gretzky in Toronto? Near his hometown? In a brand new arena?
This is the stuff hockey fans agonize over.
I had the pleasure of seeing Gretzky play, in Tucson of all places, while he was still with the Edmonton Oilers. It was a hot, sticky post-monsoon night and ice conditions were terrible. The whole place felt like we were sitting inside a defrosting refrigerator.
Had it been the regular season, I'm not sure they would have played the game. But it was an exhibition, so the puck dropped. Little did anyone know that Gretzky would be traded after the season to the team the Oilers faced that night, the Los Angeles Kings.
The Great One and the Oilers put on a great show that night. It was one of the last acts of one of hockey's greatest teams.
Gretzky was always two plays ahead of his opponent, it seemed. Just when you thought he'd make the obvious pass, he'd see what you didn't and set up someone else for an easy goal.
Gretzky and Mark Messier led the Oilers to four Stanley Cups in five seasons between the 1984 and 1988.
H E won nine Hart Memorial Trophies (that's the NHL's most valuable player award), including eight in a row, between the 1980 and 1989 seasons.
Eight straight MVPs!
He was an NHL all-star 18 times. Led the league in scoring 10 times and in assists 14 times.
Not even Jordan can top those numbers.
And, unlike Jordan, Gretzky has said if he retires, it will be the real deal. No baseball careers. No farewell tour to soak up the adulation of an entire country ... and a league that has practically abandoned it. Humble Canadians do not go in for such things.
"The only thing I will say is that I will not be one of those guys who says 'I'm 99 percent sure' or 'maybe I'm coming back,' Gretzky told the Associated Press.
"The decision I make will be 100 percent. No ifs ands or buts."
They don't make 'em like Wayne Gretzky anymore. I doubt we'll ever again see one like him.