Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: The Great One (2012)

Foreward by Michael Farber

An anthology from Sports Illustrated on the career of Wayne Gretzky is an interesting business decision.

One of the well-known rules about the sports publishing business is that hockey covers don't do well on the newsstand for Sports Illustrated. The publication only has a few each year, and that number hasn't been rising over the last couple of decades.

A collection of articles, then, on the greatest player in hockey history, is something of a natural ... in Canada. That's where the biggest fan base is, since Gretzky is considered something of a natural resource even today. That's where this book was published, although (maybe a better word is because) SI probably isn't as influential north of the border as it is the United States. Still, my guess is that it is sold in hockey hotbeds in the U.S., particularly along the border.

It would be a cheap laugh to say about this book, "There's nothing new here," since it is an anthology. OK, Michael Farber does write a fine new introduction to the book. Otherwise, these are all of the stories SI has published on Gretzky over the years, conveniently packaged in one place.

It's a breezy enough read, with none of the stories of intimidating length. Some are profiles at a particular moment in time, and others are closer to news stories about a moment in which Gretzky plays a large but not necessarily starring role in the story. In other words, that Rangers' playoff win over the Panthers is less than compelling now. The writing is first-rate, as you'd expect from Sports Illustrated. I'm not sure any of the stories, though, are particularly memorable, something that's worth saving for a lifetime even by the biggest of Gretzky's fans.

It's quite a realization for those who watched Gretzky perform his magic that he's been retired since 1999 - coming up on 14 years. That means, as the analogy goes, that there are college-aged kids who don't remember Gretzky from his playing days. He might as well be Maurice Richard from that standpoint.

This book, then, is a reminder that it would be interesting to read a story about Gretzky from today's standpoint. After retirement, he eventually coached in Phoenix for four years. He left that position when the league had to buy the team because of financial problems. Gretzky is said to be owed a seven-figure settlement for his share of the team, but no one seems to be too sure who owes him that money. The Great One doesn't have a particular role in the hockey world at the moment, and that's a shame on many levels. So what does he do with his time?

"The Great One" is a nice enough review of some of Gretzky's highlights, and will serve as a good lesson on his exploits for those too young to remember them. Fans, particularly who don't read SI regularly and thus will see the material for the first time, will like it. Still, a thorough biography putting his life into perspective needs to be written down the road.

Three stars

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