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GRETZKY: An Autobiography By Wayne Gretzky with Rick Reilly (HarperCollins: $19.95; 258 pp.)

October 21, 1990|CHRIS GOODRICH

It's unlikely we'll ever see a deal in sports to compare with the one that brought Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. Gretzky so dominated the National Hockey League that he had won its Most Valuable Player trophy eight of the previous nine years; he had not only set but obliterated every previous offensive record in the book.

So why was Gretzky traded? Money, he says here, in his first extended comment on the deal; the trade had nothing to do with his marriage to aspiring actress Janet Jones and everything to do with the financial straits of Edmonton Oilers owner Peter (Puck) Pocklington. Gretzky didn't want to leave Edmonton, he says, expecting to win the city a few more Stanley Cups--the Oilers won their fourth in five years just two hours before Gretzky first learned of the trade talk--but Pocklington had to break his personal-services contract with the player before he could take the Oilers public and stave off possible bankruptcy.

Few athletes can claim to dominate a sport the way Gretzky has dominated. How many have won their lifelong epithet--Gretzky's is "The Great One"--at age 10? That's when he scored 378 goals in 69 games in Little League play (the next-highest scorer tallied 140), and it was only the beginning of a long string of triumphs. Gretzky turned pro at 16, landed in the NHL--his third pro league--at 17, and thereafter let his stick do most of the talking. In the book, he does criticize the occasional coach, but rarely other players, and is careful not to boast. He says he looks "like the guy who bags your groceries at the local supermarket," he always finished dead last in the Oilers' strength tests, and, amazingly, he has poor peripheral vision.

Gretzky tiptoes around his experiences to date in Los Angeles. He heaps praise on the Kings' owner, Bruce McNall; hints at minor problems with coaching and management, and talks of bringing the Stanley Cup to the city, but says he still wants Edmonton "to be a home." Hockey fans will get a kick out of Gretzky, for the author is more voluble here--credit co-author Rick Reilly--than his reputation would have us believe.

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