The Next Chapter

Wayne Gretzky was the greatest hockey player ever — and an author

Wayne Gretzky wrote two books: Gretzky: An Autobiography and 99: Stories of the Game. The Next Chapter columnist Vish Khanna reviews them.
(Dean Palmer)

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, also known as "The Great One," played for both the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings. He also co-wrote two books. The first one, called Gretzky: An Autobiography, was published in 1990 and chronicled his early life and career. 99: Stories from the Game looks at hockey's most memorable moments since the inception of the NHL 100 years ago.

The Next Chapter columnist Vish Khanna read both books to see if he could gain a deeper understanding of hockey's greatest player.

The trade that changed sports

Gretzky: An Autobiography came out in 1990. The Edmonton Oilers, a championship dynasty, had won four cups. As soon as they won the last cup, it came out that their owner, Peter Pocklington, was shopping Gretzky around. He bought the Oilers for like $7 million. By the time they had won four cups they were worth $100 million. Gretzky was his main asset. So he was dangling Gretzky around teams.  

It was very important to Gretzky that the team did well. The individual concern was not as much as a thing for him. So to have this guy, a businessman, not care about the communal chemistry of the team and just trade away their best player, that really irked him. This was a watershed moment in sports. Superstars were traded all the time, but something about this one really shocked everyone. It made it seem like anyone was expendable. 

A student of the game

When you're reading 99, for example, he interweaves the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization with his interaction with that team. It's actually deeply compelling because here's a guy who started playing hockey at two years old. You see him behind the net, people called it his office. You see him flick a really hard backhand goal or pass. What you realize is that those split-second instinctual things he did on the ice that were so magical are the result of this knowledge base. He's not a high school graduate. He studied hockey. He studied players, the way they played and their stories. He basically absorbed everything. That's why he became this amazing hockey player. 

Vish Khanna's comments have been edited and condensed.