Sports fans have been incredibly lucky over the last 30 years.
Let’s say you’re like me, and started to become interested in sports around 1983 or so. Just since then, we have been privileged to watch the greatest basketball player of all-time (Michael Jordan), the greatest tennis player of all time (Roger Federer) and, apparently, the greatest golfer ever (Tiger Woods. I say apparently because I loathe golf and refuse to care or pay attention to it).
Maybe you could get an argument on a few of those from people. Some will argue Rod Laver or Pete Sampras is better than Federer, and there was a golfer named Nicklaus who seemed to be pretty good once.
But no one, I mean NO ONE, argues that Wayne Gretzky is the Greatest Hockey Player of All Time.
Name a record in the NHL record books, and he holds it. I don’t know if I’m so into hockey because of No. 99, but he certainly had a big part of me loving the sport as a child (And yes, there will be hockey on this blog. That and college basketball are my other winter passions. )
I loved it that my beloved New York Rangers were Gretzky’s final team; I can still see him skating around MSG one final time after his last game in 1999, as the adoring masses cheered.
Fast forward 10 years, and Gretzky is hardly being adored. Thursday he resigned as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, who are in the midst of a truly messy ownership squabble, even by NHL standards. Gretzky may have been fired by a new ownership group, which is battling the NHL to own the Coyotes (why anyone wants such a pathetic franchise is beyond me, but hey, it’s not my money).
So instead of being pushed out, the Great One jumped. Truthfully, his stint at coaching was a disaster. In four years he had a 143-161-24 record, and Phoenix missed the playoffs all four years. Did he have much talent to work with? No. But he certainly didn’t make the talent any better.
Gretzky joins a long list of superstar players who were bad coaches. Magic Johnson. Ted Williams. Larry Bird. Bill Russell. These guys were legends, but they just couldn’t translate their brilliance onto others. I remember Magic vividly becoming angry after one Lakers practice, saying he just couldn’t understand why Point Guard X didn’t see that coming, or why he didn’t make that play.
The answer, of course, is that the guy wasn’t Magic Johnson, and Magic never could come to terms with coaching players who just didn’t have his gifts.
I hope Gretzky is back in the NHL at some point soon; he deserves a hallowed place in the game for as long as he lives.
But no hockey fans in Phoenix are boo-hooing his departure today. As a coach, Wayne was a failure. Maybe that’s the real reason he left: He knew he wasn’t getting it done, and it was killing him.
***I know there are a legion of Ricky Gervais fans out there, but I’m not really one of them. The British comedian who starred in the original “The Office” in England just isn’t usually my pint of ale.
But I thought this was truly hilarious, a brief discussion of the terrible lessons we get from nursery rhymes: