Ali or Robinson? Nicklaus or Woods? Federer or Sampras? Pelé or Maradona? Who cares? They all pale in comparison to Wayne Gretzky.
Fuck it, let's not beat around the bush here. I'm just going to come right out and say it: Wayne Gretzky is the greatest sportsman, sports star, sports person, athlete - whatever - of all time.
Now, you've probably just dropped your cornflakes or that piping hot coffee over your lap in disgust at what you've just read. Don't worry, I'm more than happy to pick up the dry cleaners' bill in defence of The Great One. Yeah, that's right, he was so bloody good at what he did, they only went and gave him a nickname to remind us as such. Stick that in your pipes and smoke it, you bunch of sceptical bastards.
Where to start? Well, at the very beginning, when, like 99.9% of Canadian youngsters, Walter Gretzky put a pair of skates on his son's feet and a wooden stick in his hand. The only difference being, however, is the one bit of advice that father gave son on this occasion: 'Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been,’ said Walt to Wayne.
Where other 13-year-olds were probably wanking every given second of the day, Gretzky had been too busy notching an incredible 1000 career goals.
And that’s exactly what he did. It was the nugget of wisdom that, irrefutably, sent Wayne on his to way to stardom from the outset. Aged six, he was skating with and completely outclassing ten-year-olds. Four years later, he lit the lamp 378 times in an 82-game season. Where other 13-year-olds were probably wanking every given second of the day, Gretzky had been too busy notching an incredible 1000 career goals. You get the idea.
The big time was a mere inevitability and, in 1979, an 18-year-old Wayne Gretzky laced up his skates for the Edmonton Oilers. In a league filled to the brim with beefcakes, critics argued that the 6ft, 160-pound Brantford, Ontario native would struggle. How wrong they were, as Gretzky went on to make these so-called bullies look like fairies.
In his rookie season, he won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP, an award he would go on to win eight years in a row. As you do.
The best, however, was to come in 1981. The hallmark of any true scoring great in the NHL is the ability to score 50 goals in 50 games. Maurice Richard did it. Mike Bossy did. Wayne Gretzky did it... in 39 games.
At the end of that season, the hockey world was left to collectively pick its jaw up off the floor, as Wayne found the back of the net 92 times, demolishing the legendary Phil Esposito’s previous record of 76. As firing statements of intent for future greatness go, they don’t come much bigger than that.
Indeed, the ‘80s proved to be Gretzky’s halcyon days, as he went on to, simply put, single-handedly define the sport’s decade. He had the pleasure of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup on four occasions with the Oilers. They wouldn’t have done it without him. End of.
On April 18, 1999, Wayne Gretzky played his final NHL game as a member of the New York Rangers. He left the game holding or sharing a mind boggling 61 league records: he’s the game’s leading goal scorer with 894 tallies (93 better than the incredible Gordie Howe in second), boasting an unbelievable 1,963 assists (714 more than Ron Francis).
You can take your Alis, Nicklaus', Federers, Pelés, Jordans and Bradmans, and carefully shove 'em where the sun don't shine.
And those are, without doubt, the two most telling stats of them all, underlining Gretzky's ability to score goals with uncanny ease and a sublime vision to create plays and set up others. And he did it all with the grace, elegance and effortlessness of a Bolshoi ballet artist. What more could you ask for from an athlete? For me, he was the ultimate all-round athlete… the greatest of all time.
So, as marvellous as they all were, you can take your Alis, Nicklaus's, Federers, Pelés, Jordans and Bradmans, and carefully shove 'em where the sun don't shine. I'll take Wayne Douglas Gretzky every day for the rest of my life, thank you very much.