(editor’s note: This is the first official article from longtime commenter JZarris. Welcome, James!)
When did you first realize your hero was flawed? Up to that point, had you ever considered such a thing could be possible? What if your hero let you down in the most personal manner possible? Would you be big enough to let it go, to forgive and forget?
This melodramatic thought came to mind with the recent announcement of the Three-Way Chevrolet Condorstown Outdoor Classic (no, really, that’s the title) on January 7th. Also announced was the alumni-celebrity game the night prior, captained by the two most famous LA Kings of the modern era, Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille.
Seeing Wayne and Luuuuuuuuuuuuuc! pair up again to promote the game of hockey is fantastic, but dang if it doesn’t shock me every time. You see, Luc Robitaille idolized The Great One, and The Great One broke his heart.
To start, Wayne Gretzky was a hero to Luc:
"Bruce McNall called me the day before the trade was about to happen and I still wasn't sure it was really going to happen," recalled Robitaille. "The next day, I was in Montreal when it happened and I had to do a couple hundred interviews. There was no way to get hold of Wayne because of the press conference, so people starting asking me questions. I idolized Wayne, so to get the best player in the game was great. That was the most excited I ever was in my career about getting a new player on my team. To be able to watch him day in and day out was just amazing."
Gretzky’s arrival in August of 1988 was enormous, and Luc went total fanboy. Reality soon set in, however, and he came to realize that The Great One was, in fact, human:
“…anything I could find about I Gretzky I would try to study. I mean, I had pictures and watch all the games [sic], by the time he got on my team I was so nervous…I couldn’t…when you idolize someone that what [sic] you don’t believe they’re gonna have flaws.”
In the summer of 1994, Luc’s realization became personal on July 29. Sam "The Disaster" McMaster dealt him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Rick Tocchet and a 1995 2nd round pick (hi Pavel Rosa!). To many Kings fans, and even Robitaille’s agent, Gretzky’s fingerprints were all over the deal, though it is worth remembering that Barry Melrose was still the Kings’ coach at the time. No, seriously, go back and read this article. The Kings would later trade Darryl Sydor for Shane friggin’ Churla (brilliantly headlined by Lisa Dillman).
Recall that Gretzky was the Kings’ captain at the time, and when he was recovering from back surgery, Robitaille had served as captain in his stead. Long story short, the trade devastated Robitaille and his family, and he laid blame squarely on Wayne’s feet.
“When [Kings GM Sam “the Disaster”] McMaster traded him…Robitaille spoke out. He didn’t use Gretzky’s name, but he said, “Players should play, and managers should manage. Maybe one of the reasons I’m going is because I agree with that.”
All this is a long way of saying: I find it impressive that Luc and Wayne are seemingly on good terms again. Whatever the facts, the ability of these two Los Angeles legends to come to terms is beneficial for the franchise, the game, and its fans.