Gretzky, 40, announced his retirement as a player on April 16, 1999 after 20 seasons in which he dominated the National Hockey League unlike any other player in history. Gretzky helped win four Stanley Cup Championships and three Canada Cup tournament titles during his illustrious career. He became the NHL's all-time leading goal, assist and point producer for both regular season and playoffs. Gretzky won 10 Art Ross Trophies as the NHL's leading scorer, nine Hart Trophies as the League's MVP and two Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP. He earned five Lady Byng Trophies as the NHL's most gentlemanly player and made 18 consecutive All-Star Game appearances, securing three All-Star MVP Awards. Gretzky is an eight-time First All-Star Team member and seven-time Second All-Star Team member. He holds virtually every offensive record in the NHL and his tireless support of the game has contributed significantly to the popularity it enjoys today.
As a six-year-old, the Brantford, Ontario native was good enough to play on a 10-and-under team and even managed to score a goal. Four years later, a 10-year-old Gretzky finished the 1971-72 season with 378 goals and 120 assists in 85 games in the Brantford atom league. Such was the advanced billing as Gretzky arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to play for the Greyhounds for his first and only full year of major junior hockey in 1977. Selected third in the annual midget draft by Sault Ste. Marie, the 16-year-old Gretzky justified the Greyhounds' faith in him, scoring six goals in his first game and proceeding to take OHA Rookie of the Year honors, recording totals of 70-112-182 for the season.
The next year, the 17-year-old Gretzky signed a contract on June 13, 1978 with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. Just eight games into the season, Gretzky was sold to the rival Edmonton Oilers along with Eddie Mio and Peter Driscoll on November 2, 1978. On January 5, 1979, Gretzky realized a lifelong dream by centering a line with Gordie Howe (Gretzky's childhood idol) and son Mark Howe on the WHA All-Star Team against the touring Moscow Dynamo club from the Soviet Union. He finished the 1978-79 season with 110 points and was named the WHA's Rookie of the Year.
Both Gretzky and his Edmonton Oilers made their NHL debuts in Chicago on October 10, 1979 against the Blackhawks. Although the Oilers lost the game, the 18-year-old Gretzky recorded his first NHL point, an assist on Kevin Lowe's goal at 9:49 of the first period. Four nights later, in Edmonton's third game of the season, Gretzky beat Vancouver Canucks goaltender Glen Hanlon to score his first NHL goal on a power play at 18:51 of the third period. Gretzky finished the season with 137 points (51-86-137) and won the first of eight consecutive Hart Trophies as the most valuable player to his team.
Over the next eight seasons with the Oilers, from 1980-81 through 1987-88, Gretzky eclipsed even the lofty pace set in his rookie year, averaging nearly 192 points per season. Included are many record-shattering performances, such as: scoring 50 goals in his team's first 39 games in 1981-82 and setting the all-time regular season mark with 92 goals by season's end; a consecutive point-scoring streak of 51 games to start the 1983-84 season; setting an all-time single season scoring record for the playoffs with 47 points in 1984-85 and setting the all-time regular season mark with 215 points in 1985-86. The Oilers reached the Stanley Cup Finals five times, capturing the Cup four times. In addition, Gretzky was an integral part of the 1984 and 1987 Team Canada squads that won the Canada Cup.
On August 9, 1988, after helping Edmonton capture a fourth Stanley Cup and winning a second Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in one of the biggest deals in sports history. Gretzky, along with teammates Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, was dealt to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three future first-round draft choices and cash ($15 million).
That August day would forever change the NHL landscape in the United States. Gretzky joined a Kings team that had averaged just over 10,000 fans per game in its 21-year history. With Gretzky as the star attraction, hockey became one of the hottest tickets in California. By 1991, the team would become the only franchise in Southern California to sell out every home game for an entire season. Hockey's success in a warm-weather environment paved the way for acceptance of the sport in America's Sun Belt, enabling hockey to prosper in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
His first season in a Kings uniform was an unqualified success, as the team finished with the most improved record in the NHL (42-31-7) and placed second in the Smythe Division. Gretzky finished second in League scoring with 168 points (54-114-168) and won his ninth Hart Trophy. The following season, Gretzky became the NHL's all-time leading scorer when he passed Gordie Howe's total of 1,850 points at Edmonton on October 15, 1989.
On April 28, 1992, Gretzky's Kings were eliminated in a six-game opening round playoff series by the Oilers. It would be the Great One's last NHL game for more than eight months as a debilitating back injury (a herniated thoracic disk) would call into question whether Gretzky ever would be able to return. Experts said he would be out of hockey for at least one year, but by early December, Gretzky had resumed skating and on January 6, 1993, he was back in the Kings lineup for his 1,000th career game, assisting on two Kings goals in a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Despite the eight-month layoff, Gretzky would rebound to register 65 points (16-49-65) in 45 games and would lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals for the only time in franchise history. The Kings lost in five games to the Montreal Canadiens, but Gretzky proved he was back at the top of his game by registering 40 points in 24 postseason games.
The following season, Gretzky scored goal No. 802, eclipsing Howe as the NHL's all-time leading goal-scorer on March 23, 1994. Concluding the 1993-94 season, Gretzky captured his 10th and final Art Ross Trophy and added his fourth Lady Byng Trophy -- marking his 10th multiple-award campaign. He also received the Lester Patrick Trophy recognizing his outstanding contribution to hockey in the United States. In 1994-95, Gretzky led the Kings in scoring for the sixth time in seven seasons before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. On February 27, 1996, Gretzky went to the Blues in exchange for Craig Johnson, Roman Vopat, Patrice Tardif and two draft choices. As the Blues top scorer, he recorded 102 points (23 goals, 79 assists), reaching the 100-point plateau for the 15th time in his career. He led the Blues to within one goal of the Western Conference Finals.
On July 12, 1996, Gretzky signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers, joining his former Oilers teammate Mark Messier. He made an immediate impact in New York, posting a 15-game scoring streak in his first month with the club. He recorded 97 points as the Rangers' top scorer and tallied a League-leading 72 assists, tying the club's single season record for assists by a center.
In 1998, Gretzky realized another dream by competing for Canada at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. He concluded the year with his seventh selection to the NHL's Second All-Star Team and was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship. He led the NHL in assists once again with 67, including the 1,851st of his career, which made his assists total greater than any other player's career points total. The final season of his playing career (1998-99) saw Gretzky build his grand totals to 894 goals and 1,963 assists for 2,857 points in 1,487 career games, capping a lifetime of thrills and achievement.
Gretzky played in his final game as an NHL player on April 18, 1999. Upon his retirement, Gretzky held or shared 61 NHL records (40 for regular season, 15 for Stanley Cup playoffs and 6 for All-Star Game). Following his final game, the NHL bestowed on Gretzky the unique distinction of being the only player in the history of the NHL to have his jersey number retired by all member clubs. "No. 99" was formally retired at the 2000 NHL All-Star Game in Toronto and will never be worn again by an NHL player.
In 1997, prior to his retirement, "The Hockey News" named a committee of 50 hockey experts (former NHL players, past and present writers, broadcasters, coaches and hockey executives) to select and rank the 50 greatest players in NHL history. The experts voted Gretzky number one, ahead of the once seemingly incomparable Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe.
On November 22, 1999 -- seven months after his retirement -- Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, becoming the tenth and final player in Hockey Hall of Fame history to have the mandatory three-year waiting period for enshrinement waived by the Hall's board of directors. Gretzky joined such former NHL legends as Orr, Howe, Maurice Richard, Ted Lindsay, Jean Beliveau and Mario Lemieux to enter the Hall of Fame immediately. In typical Gretzky fashion, The Great One tried to share the limelight at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies with his two fellow inductees -- former referee Andy Van Hellemond and former referee-in-chief Scotty Morrison -- when they received their Hall of Fame blazers and rings. Approximately 2,500 people attended the celebration of Gretzky's career.
Less than one month later, ESPN named Gretzky the 5th greatest athlete of the 20th century. Gretzky, the most honored player in a team sport with nine MVP awards and the only NHL player to score more than 200 points in a season, was voted No. 5 among North American athletes by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel. Only Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali and Jim Brown preceded him.
Gretzky's most recent accolade came on June 5, 2000, when the Edmonton icon accepted his honorary University of Alberta doctor of laws degree for contributing to sport and community at the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, Alberta.
Despite his retirement, Gretzky's popularity continues to soar. His playing career and endorsement deals have made him one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. He is currently involved with fellow sports legends and friends Michael Jordan and John Elway as owners of MVP.com, an on-line sports retail business. In addition, Gretzky signed with Budweiser to appear in national television and radio advertisements and serve as the "commissioner" for the popular Bud Light Bubble Boys Hockey League. Gretzky also has his own clothing line called "Wayne Gretzky" that is distributed through "The Bay" stores in Canada.
Gretzky's corporate clients include Goodyear Tires, Folger's Coffee, Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol, McDonald's, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Esso Imperial and TransAlta (an Alberta based energy company). In many ways, Gretzky lends his name and image to companies to assist charitable and educational programs. Esso and McDonald's use Gretzky to promote minor hockey programs and he continues to be involved with Ronald McDonald Children's Charities. Gretzky also allows his face to be displayed on cans of Folger's coffee in Canada to help raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada.
In addition, Gretzky signed on with Faceoff.com (a web site for hockey enthusiasts) and writes a weekly sports column for the National Post, a nation-wide daily newspaper in Canada. Gretzky also has equity ownership positions in restaurants (Wayne Gretzky's in Toronto, All-Star Café in New York), the World Wide Roller Hockey (which has built nine Wayne Gretzky Roller Hockey Centers in the United States) and Hespeler hockey equipment.
For two decades, the ethereal Wayne Gretzky lifted hockey to new and dizzying heights while establishing himself as the greatest player of all time. He transcended hockey and was the most statistically dominant player in the history of North American team sports, an athlete who ranks with basketball's Michael Jordan and soccer's Pele as one of the greatest offensive forces in the history of any sport and a man whose name will be mentioned in the same breath as Muhammad Ali as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.
Gretzky and his wife Janet have four children; daughter Paulina and sons Ty, Trevor and Tristan. The family resides in California.