Friday, 1 March 2019

TBC: Gretzky

If there's one player who I never fully appreciated during his time in the league, it likely was Wayne Gretzky. Part of it, I suspect, was how he was a member of the Oilers and they continually rolled over the Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs every seemingly every spring, but I never found any room in my heart for #99. Having read a few books about the Oilers, I have to admit I went searching for more information on the Edmonton dynasty, and I'm happy to add today's book to Teebz's Book Club thanks to Wayne Gretzky's telling of the Oilers years through his eyes. Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Gretzky: An Autobiography, written by Wayne Gretzky with Rick Reilly and published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. In his own words, Gretzky talks about the building of the dynasty, the highs and lows of the Stanley Cup, falling in love, the trade, and everything else that went on with the Oilers. One should note that the publication date of this book originally was in 1990, so there is nothing about the Blues or Rangers nor is there a lot about the Los Angeles Kings.

I'm pretty sure that Wayne Gretzky doesn't need an introduction, but let's do this anyway. He played with the Oilers, Kings, Blues, and Rangers in the NHL where he amassed the most goals, assists, and points in NHL history over a 20-year career. He also played one season in the WHA with the Indianapolis Racers after playing with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. It was with the Racers where he scored his first professional goal against Dave Lumley and the Edmonton Oilers. After the folding of the WHA and the Oilers were admitted into the NHL, Gretzky went on to have the best statistical career of any player in history. Wayne is married to actress Janet Jones, and they reside in Los Angeles.

Rick Reilly has had an incredible career as a sportswriter. He covered football for the Denver Post from 1981-83 before moving to Los Angeles where he followed the Rams for the Los Angeles Times for two years. He joined Sports Illustrated in 1985, and was featured on the back page of SI from 1997 until 2007. Reilly's work has resulted in him being voted NSSA National Sportswriter of the Year eleven times, and he co-wrote the film Leatherheads that featured George Clooney and Renee Zellweger. He has also authored a number of books including The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley, and New York Times bestsellers The Life of Reilly and Who's Your Caddy. Reilly currently works for ESPN.

Gretzky takes you through Gretzky's childhood in one chapter and launches you into his professional career with the WHA after his days in the Soo where they called Gretzky "Pretzel". From there, one gets to embark on a career that is unmatched by any other hockey player before or after, and there are some interesting tidbits of information that Gretzky passes along in this book.

Of all the things that one learns about the Oilers in Gretzky, it's how much of a family-like atmosphere they had when it came to the young guns of the Oilers maturing together. Players like Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Andy Moog, Grant Fuhr, Kevin Lowe, and Jari Kurri were all around the same age when they arrived in Edmonton, and it's interesting to hear how they needed to learn the lessons that great teams like the Islanders went through to achieve greatness. They grew together, they learned together, but it seems the biggest lesson in all of Gtrezky's writing is that the guys simply liked being together and playing hockey together. Individually, they were good players, but together, they were greater than they were as individuals.

Gretzky does go into other segments such as the Canada Cup tournaments, his courtship and eventual marriage to actress Janet Jones, and the trade to Los Angeles, but Gretzky: An Autobiography deals mostly with the years with the Edmonton Oilers. He talks of winning the Stanley Cup, the loss to Calgary in 1986, the ups and downs with Glen Sather and Peter Pocklington, and dealing with being the most famous hockey player on the planet. He doesn't duck away from the difficult points, often writing things he likely wouldn't say today, but his candor in some of these moments is refreshing to read when you consider its source.

What I found rather interesting is how superstitious Wayne Gretzky is. Throughout Gretzky: An Autobiography, Gretzky talks about his superstitions that he simply couldn't or wouldn't shake. Besides having a fear of flying for a while, Gretzky went deep into one superstition about a piece of equipment that literally has no effect on the game, but was vital to his consecutive-games-with-a-point streak. He writes,
See, hockey players use garter belts to keep their socks up, and I'd used the same one throughout the whole streak. It got so beat up and raggedy that I had to use a dime in place of the button to keep it together. Didn't matter. I wasn't going to change it. Not that I'm superstitious. But when we got to Vancouver, I couldn't find it. We'd left it in Palm Springs. So they gave me a new one. I tried to tear it and mangle it a little so it looked like the old one and, reluctantly, I put it on. It must have worked. I got two goals and two assists and kept the streak alive.
How crazy is that? Most players likely never thought twice about the old garter belts that were used, but there's Gretzky fussing over making a new one look beat up like his old one. I guess that attention to detail went into a lot of his life and why he's regarded as the best scorer in the history of the game. Superstitions are funny things, though.

One of the coolest things I discovered about Gretzky: An Autobiography is that the deal in having Gretzky write the book is that it was also translated into Braille. Gretzky is a big supporter of charities for the blind after meeting a blind child in an airport who recognized Wayne Gretzky by his voice. That's an incredible gesture for Gretzky to make for the visually-impaired community, and it shows that no matter how big of a star he became that he was always trying to use that fame to help others. That's awesome.

Gretzky: An Autobiography pulls back the curtains on how the greatest player the game has ever seen saw the game during the 1980s. He speaks of coaches, players, management, family, and friends in the book with a candor and freedom that one rarely sees from Wayne Gretzky, and I found this voice to be informative and entertaining. Having read other books from players who played alongside Gretzky during these heady days of the Oilers gives one all sorts of perspectives in terms of how everyone saw the successes and failures of the Oilers, and Gretzky's autobiography only adds to that overall arc of the Oilers' history. Because of the writing, honesty, and perspectives that Gretzky brings in this book, Gretzky: An Autobiography certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

You can likely find Gretzky: An Autobiography at most libraries across North America and perhaps a few used bookstores. There's nothing to salacious in this book to worry about when it comes to language or topics, so I would say it would be a suitable read for all readers!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: