THE GOOD ONE
At least that's what a few young opponents called him to needle him, knowing even then—before he went on to rewrite the NHL record book and win four Stanley Cups—that he was already the Great One.
DAN PATRICK:Did you have a nickname before the Great One?
WAYNE GRETZKY: I was 10 when a reporter friend from a little town down the street gave me that nickname. It stuck.
DP:Did players use that nickname against you?
WG: Never in the NHL. But when I was 11, 12, 13, if I had a bad game, someone might say, He's the Good One.
DP:If you played in the NHL right now ... finish that sentence.
WG: It's a different game. These guys are bigger and faster. Goaltending is better. You have 30 teams, and pretty much every team has a goalie who's capable.
DP:If there were a draft and every NHL player was eligible, who would you take first?
WG: [Sidney] Crosby.
DP:Crosby's still the best?
WG: I don't think it's even a question. [The Blackhawks' Jonathan] Toews is a good 1-A.
DP:Did you ever feel sorry for a goaltender?
WG: Never. If they're going to be silly enough to get in net, why feel sorry for them?
DP:Was Mark Messier intimidating?
WG: He had a presence about him that only one other player ever had, and that was Gordie Howe. Yet they both had a great deal of respect from other players. In the 1980s and '90s, Messier was the most intimidating player, but he was probably the nicest guy too.
DP:Did you ever get in an argument with Messier?
WG: No. You see superstars on teams who don't get along. We never had that. We started at 17 in Edmonton together. We grew up together. You always take care of your best friend.
DP:Does meeting any athlete make you nervous?
WG: I have a great deal of respect for Derek Jeter. I love athletes who thrive under pressure. George Brett and John McEnroe were two of the greatest clutch players in history. The bigger the game, the more fun those guys had. Those are the kind of players I idolized.
DP:Your daughter is becoming almost as famous as you.
WG: She's more famous then I am. People in Canada used to say [to my family], Where's your dad? Now it's, Is Paulina with you? The next question is, Where's [golfer] Dustin [Johnson]?
DP:Are they getting married?
WG: Supposedly, yes. In the fall. I'm like every other father—you wait until they tell you.
DP:Remember, you have to pay for the wedding.
WG: Then I hope they elope.
Doug O'Neill, who trained 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, thinks proposals to change the Triple Crown aren't necessary: "They have talked about trying to put more time between the races. Hopefully they'll leave it alone. If they mess with it, then maybe an average or good horse can stumble into it. It should take a great horse to do it." ... NBC NHL analyst Jeremy Roenick explained why more players are wearing face masks. "It's so fast and reckless nowadays," he told me. "These guys go for blood. There are big salaries, and guys are fighting for jobs." ... I asked ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy when he last talked to Knicks president Phil Jackson. "When [the Rockets] played him in a playoff series [in 2004] and he was yelling at me," Van Gundy said. "I would call it an angry dialogue about my place in the coaching box."
MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
KEVIN SULLIVAN/THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER/ZUMAPRESS.COM (GRETZKY)
ALEX TRAUTWIG/GETTY IMAGES) (O'NEILL)
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES (ROENICK)
JEROME MIRON/USA TODAY SPORTS (VAN GUNDY)