It’s Been 20 Years Since Wayne Gretzky Retired

Wayne Gretzky waves to the crowd in his last NHL game. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Wayne Gretzky waves to the crowd in his last NHL game. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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As we saw over the last few weeks with Dwyane and Dirk in the NBA, sports legends winding down their storied careers is a big, emotional deal. And all due respect to the Heat and Mavs legends who will 100 percent end up in the Hall of Fame on the first try, but nobody ever called either of them “The Great One.” There was only one athlete who earned that title, and he hung up his hockey skates 20 years ago today.

On April 18, 1999, Wayne Gretzky skated around the rink one last time as a member of the New York Rangers. The last game, a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, was about as unspectacular as his last few years in the league had been. He’d played a short stint with the St. Louis Blues, then, in 1996, he found his way to Madison Square Garden, where he was once again reunited with former Edmonton Oilers teammate Mark Messier. The move looked to pay off when, in 1997, the Blueshirts reached the Conference Finals only to get knocked out by the Philadelphia Flyers. Gretzky led the team with 10 goals and 10 assists, but it wasn’t enough. After that, the Rangers languished towards the bottom of the conference, unable to get #99 back to the playoffs one last time.

Those last few seasons aside, what Gretzky did over his long career, starting as a teenager in the now-defunct WHA in the late-1970s and stretching to the dynasty days with the Oilers, where he would eventually break every scoring record imaginable, is incredible in its breadth. There really was nobody like him, and just like the Ruths, Alis and Jordans, he transcended his sport the way nobody had before, and nobody ever will again.

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