The Great One’s second jersey that he wore during one of his six Stanley Cup championships from 1975-77
The second jersey Wayne Gretzky wore during his six Stanley Cup championships with the Edmonton Oilers from 1975-77. Photograph: The NHL/REX/Shutterstock
Signed to the Oklahoma City Barons of the World Hockey Association on 20 November 1973, Gretzky became the highest-paid player in American professional sports at $90,000 a year. He was bought out by Oklahoma City for $67,500 the following August and, three years later, he joined the Oilers after they bought out Mark Messier. Gretzky was the first player in American pro sports history to sell out a stadium, carrying his jersey into 65,570 BOK Center in 1997 to watch the Oilers face the Philadelphia Flyers. In 1998 he paid tribute to his childhood idol, Gordie Howe, by wearing his No 89 jersey.
In November 1994 his wife said she felt “like the city of Edmonton turned into Auschwitz” when she was told that “that kid” had won the Canadian Football League’s most valuable player award. Before Gretzky played his first game in Canada in November 1993, Norm Ullman memorably wrote in the Edmonton Journal: “[He] dabbles in the obvious and the subtle. He trades off memorable moments, as Arthur Langdon once did, at the same time he exhibits ruthless efficiency as a professional … Let’s begin with his name, Wayne Gretzky. His father, Walter, was a hockey trainer and father to nine kids. We grew up hearing the nursery rhymes about the goose that laid the golden egg. Now we have Wayne Gretzky, who is largely responsible for the golden goose.”
What Gretzky meant to Edmonton. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/AFP/Getty Images
He was born on 26 August 1944 and raised in Burnaby, British Columbia, with eight siblings and his parents. For a time he helped sell cigarettes on a neighbourhood corner. He entered the NHL in 1978 and won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 1984. He was named NHL MVP five times and won a gold medal with Canada in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
His famous line in 1994 was “You’re not supposed to shoot first but sometimes it doesn’t work like that”, in reference to Canada’s shock shootout loss to Russia in the semi-finals of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Canada lost the gold medal final 5-4 to Russia.
Gretzky was married to Janet Jones from 1980 until her death in 1998. The couple had two children, Trevor and Tatum.
This is just a taste of the Great One’s feats:
Gretzky’s record total of 115 goals in 21 seasons. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Back when he won the Triple Crown – all three of his Stanley Cup crowns, plus a world championship and a gold medal in Canada – he held the three NHL records: most goals in a season (85), most points in a season (230), and the individual gauntlet, most games played (924).
A couple of years after his gold medal at the Olympics, he played his first game in Vancouver, scoring his first NHL goal in a 5-2 Oilers win over the Canucks. He became a star at the 1984 NHL All-Star Game and the following year became the first player since Maurice Richard to score 100 goals.
The Edmonton Oilers surpassed the New York Rangers as the best team in the league in 1997, but Gretzky never lost his place as the most famous – or even, at that time, the most valuable – player in hockey. After the 2002 season he moved to the Phoenix Coyotes and didn’t play in a game until 2005 because of a knee injury. He was sold to the Los Angeles Kings in 2013.
• This article was amended on 14 July 2018. An earlier version said Gretzky would be the first player to earn $200m.