On Jan. 26, 1961, in Brantford, Ontario, a legend was introduced to the world. Walter Gretzky and Phyllis Leone gave birth to their first child, naming him Wayne.
The Gretzkys had a vision, moving into a house on Varadi Avenue in Brantford seven months after the birth of their son.
Their reasoning behind choosing that specific home? The yard was flat enough to build an ice rink in the winter. Walter and Phyllis had no idea at the time just how valuable that decision would be.
Wayne was a natural on the ice, learning to skate at just 2 years old, eventually joining an organized league with the older boys when he was 6.
Gretzky dominated the competition as a kid to a degree few have ever seen, racking up an incredible 378 goals in his final Pee Wee Hockey season.
By the time he was a teenager, he was known all across Canada. The highly-touted prospect was selected third in the 1977 Ontario Major Junior Hockey League Midget draft by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Gretzky continued to build his legacy in the 1978 World Junior Championships in Quebec City, where he played for Canada and led the entire tournament in scoring.
After showcasing his abilities in Quebec, Gretzky wanted to head straight to the NHL. Unfortunately, he was denied due to age restrictions enforced by the league at the time.
Wayne opted to sign with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association, a decision that would prove fortunate for the young centerman. The Racers shut down early into their season, and his rights were sold to the Edmonton Oilers.
Gretzky made his NHL debut in 1979, immediately taking the league by storm. He posted 51 goals and 86 assists, becoming the first player ever to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in his first season.
That was just the beginning.
Gretzky quickly rose to legendary status in Edmonton, leading the Oilers to four Stanley Cup wins (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988) while breaking almost every scoring record imaginable.
He put together multiple seasons that other players could only dream of, but his best is widely considered the 1986 campaign, in which he scored 52 goals and racked up an NHL-record 163 assists.
An elite strategist, Gretzky implemented his own ideas into the Oilers’ game plans. The results were about as effective as you would expect from the best player in the league.
Between ‘82 and ‘85, Edmonton averaged 423 goals per season. Up until that point, no team had broken the 400-goal barrier.
With these incredible accomplishments came endless praise. Gretzky was nicknamed “The Great One”. The government of Canada even issued an official Gretzky dollar coin in 1983.
What separated Gretzky from other superstars was the fact that despite the constant adoration he received from his fans, he remained notoriously humble.
For nine years, Edmonton remained a powerhouse with Gretzky leading the charge, and his love for the city never wavered. Many expected him to remain with the Oilers for the entirety of his career.
Unfortunately, nothing good can last.
In 1988, the hockey world was stunned when Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a haul of draft picks and players.
To this day, the exact reasoning behind this trade has not been revealed. There are plenty of theories, from those that believe the NHL forced it through to move Gretzky to a bigger market, to those that think he forced the move to further his wife Janet Jones’ acting career.
Regardless, Gretzky’s fairytale run in Edmonton was over.
He played in Los Angeles for the next eight seasons, maintaining his claim as the league’s best player. That being said, the Kings never won a Stanley Cup in that stretch.
Gretzky bounced around for a bit, playing in St. Louis for one year and then ending his career in New York with the Rangers.
After 20 years, Gretzky had cemented his spot as the greatest hockey player of all time. He holds or shares 61 NHL records, including most career goals (894), most career assists (1,963) and most career points (2,857).
Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame the following year.
After his retirement, Gretzky was determined to accomplish something he never could as a player — international glory.
He took over as the executive director of Canada’s men’s Olympic Hockey team, guiding them to their first gold medal in 50 years in 2002.
After a few years with the Phoenix Coyotes as an owner/front office member, he left the game for good. His level of dominance over two decades is something the NHL will never see again.
If there was ever a player that earned the title of “The Great One”, it was Wayne Gretzky.