Taught by his father, Walter, Wayne Gretzky was a prodigy. At 6 years old he was skating with 10 year-olds and he scored 378 goals in 85 games. This was when the first story on him was ever published in the Toronto papers. At 14, Wayne played against 20 year-olds where he not only left his hometown to further his career but also escape the jealousy his on-ice achievements often created. His parents made two complete strangers who they had never met to be his legal guardians. He soon signed with his first agent.
Wayne played one year in the Ontario Hockey League at the age of 16 with the Greyhounds, where he began wearing 99 on his jersey since his idol Gordie Howe's number 9 was being worn by a teammate. The next year, he signed with the World Hockey Association and Eight games into the season, his contract was bought by the owner of the Edmonton Oilers.
After the 1978-79 seasons, four WHA teams, including the Oilers, joined the National Hockey League. In his first NHL season, 1979-80, Gretzky was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League's Most Valuable Player, which would be the first of eight in a row, and tied for the scoring lead with 137 points. Gretzky was not eligible for the trophy given to the top NHL rookie, because of his previous year of professional experience.
In his second season, Gretzky won the Art Ross with a single-season record 164 points, and won his second straight Hart Trophy. The Oilers were a young, talented team with forwards like Mark Messier and Jari Kurri, defenseman Paul Coffey, and Gretzky as its captain. In 1983, they made it to the Stanley Cup finals just to be swept by the three-time defending champions New York Islanders. The next season, the Oilers met the Islanders in the Finals again, this time winning the first of four Stanley Cups over the next five years. In 1981, Gretzky became the fastest player to 50 goals in a season. Breaking the record of 50 goals in 50 games, Gretzky took 39 games to reach the same mark when he scored on an empty net in the remaining seconds of the game against Philadelphia. Gretzky scored 5 of Edmonton's goals that night.
On February 24, 1982, Gretzky broke yet another record for most goals in a season of 76, when he scored four goals to help beat Buffalo 6-3. It was not an entirely unexpected event because the previous record holder was on hand to present Gretzky with the record-breaking game puck.
During the rest of the 1981-1982 seasons, Gretzky would go on to break yet another scoring record, scoring an amazing 92 goals in the season as well as amazing 212 points, another record that was seen as impossible to break. In 1982, Gretzky became the first hockey player and Canadian to be named Male Athlete of the Year. He also was named Sports Illustrated Magazine's "Sportsman of the Year." He was also named male athlete of the decade in 1990. In a trade that changed the dynamics of the NHL, Gretzky was traded with two other players by the Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings for a package that included two players, fifteen million dollars, and three draft picks. The Trade upset Canadians so much that one lawmaker demanded the government block it. From this day forward Gretzky's wife, Janet, was branded hockey's Yoko Ono as she didn't want to stay in Edmonton.
There is debate as to whether Gretzky "jumped" or was "pushed." A book quotes The Oilers general manager as saying Gretzky had become impossible to deal with, and his wife let it be known that she was not going to live in Edmonton after they got married. Gretzky himself admitted to a magazine at the time that living in celebrity haven of Los Angeles made sense to him since it offered his child the freedom he would not have in Edmonton. Still, The Oilers G.M. remains disliked by many Canadian hockey fans to this day.
Gretzky's first season in Los Angeles saw a massive increase in attendance and fan interest in a city not really known for following ice hockey. The Kings had numerous sellouts on their way to reaching the playoffs. Even though they were heavy underdogs against his old team, Gretzky led the Kings to a shocking upset of the defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers. Many credit Gretzky's arrival with putting Southern California on the NHL map; now California has three NHL franchises.
Gretzky led the Kings to the Cup finals again in 1993. However he replaced the captain and the coaches Robbie Ftorek and Barry Melrose were fired. Things also began too look more suspect as teammates were traded when they fell out of Gretzky's favor and were replaced by his older Edmonton teammates. Because of these things, the Kings continued on a downward spiral. On February 27, 1996, the new owners, which Gretzky did not get along, traded him to the St. Louis Blues. While he scored 37 points in 31 games for the team and they got within one overtime game of the Conference finals, Gretzky seemed to clash with infamous coach Mike Keenan and never played well with Brett Hull on the ice as many expected. He later signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent, joining his old teammate Messier. Gretzky now holds or shares 61 NHL records: 40 regular season 15 playoff, and 6 All-Star. He holds single-season records for goals, assists and points. He holds career playoff records for goals, assists, and points. He also holds the career regular season records for goals, assists and points. His career assists total alone would place him as the NHL's leading point scorer. He won 9 Hart Trophies, the NHL's most valuable player award, and eight of these were awarded in order. In fact, Gretzky holds the record for most MVP awards of any player in professional sports. Gretzky also won a record 10 Art Ross Trophies, 5 Lady Byng Trophies for sportsmanship, 2 Conn Smythe Trophies as the playoffs' MVP, and 5 Lester B. Pearson Awards as the League's outstanding player as judged by the players. He won 3 All-Star Game MVP awards, tied for most ever. His jersey number, 99, was retired by every single team in the league.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 22, 1999, without the 3-year waiting period. After all he had been through, all the ups and the downs of his career Gretzky was finally immortalized by getting into "the hall," this was by far his sweetest moment.