Posted: Tuesday January 16, 2007 9:22AM; Updated: Tuesday January 16, 2007 9:22AM
WAYNE GRETZKY entered the NHL in 1979 as a phenom and set the standard for young stars (page 50). He retired two decades -- and 12 SI covers -- later as the Great One, a nine-time league MVP and the NHL's alltime leading scorer. Now coaching the Phoenix Coyotes, Gretzky, 45, talked with SI's Arash Markazi about what eight key covers meant to him.
1981 ( OCT. 12 )
I remember this picture so well. The photographer [Paul Kennedy] wanted me to keep flipping the puck so he could capture the Oilers logo on the puck perfectly. I told him I wasn't sure I could do it, but I think he got it in the first couple of takes. You can see I'm pretty happy. The writer [E.M. Swift] had done my first story in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED three years before, but I never thought I would get to be on the cover.
1982 ( DEC. 27 )
A great honor. I think SI's Sportsman of the Year is the hardest award to win in sports. When the picture was taken I was in the middle of what would be a 30-game point streak, so I didn't want to cut my hair. My hair was so long it was going in my eyes, and I remember lying on a blanket they'd put on the ice and pushing the hair from my eyes after each shot. I guess the picture turned out nice with my reflection on the ice.
1988 ( MAY 30 )
This is my favorite cover. I was playing great, and we beat Boston in the finals. To win the Cup that year meant so much. I also love this cover because I remember being honored that I was on the same cover as Larry Bird. I loved watching him play and have always admired him. Watching him go from being a player to a coach was an inspiration for me to get into coaching.
1988 ( AUG. 22 )
This is a great cover because I had so much fun with Magic Johnson. When I came to L.A. [in a trade that sent two players, three draft picks and $15 million to the Oilers], Magic was one of the first guys to welcome me, and he was really good to me. It was Magic's people who came up with the idea and said let's promote both the Lakers and the Kings, and wanted us to do this together.
1989 ( DEC. 18 )
It was special. I was so young then , but I'm a big sports fan and being included in anything with Magic and [49ers quarterback] Joe Montana is an honor. [The cover hailed the three for dominating their respective sports throughout the 1980s.] Now that I know both of those guys, they are even nicer than anyone would think. They're just as great off the court or the field as they are on it, so it makes the honor that much greater.
1996 ( MARCH 11 )
This was a bad time for me because I got traded. [The Kings sent Gretzky to the Blues for three players and two draft picks.] So I'm not a big fan of this cover. That was one of the hardest times in my career, to leave Los Angeles and go to St. Louis. [Gretzky played just 18 regular-season and 13 playoff games with the Blues before signing with the Rangers as a free agent.]
1996 ( OCT. 7 )
Being with Mark Messier again made this fun. No one thought I'd go to New York, least of all me, and when SI asked us to do this, we jumped at it. We had practice and a luncheon and then we drove over and did the shoot on a sidewalk, near a fence. It was very cool. I knew I'd like New York, but I didn't know I'd love it as much as I did. I had the greatest three years of my life there.
1999 ( APRIL 26 )
My retirement was a bitter-happy time. I was disappointed that [my career] had to end, but the way the people in New York, the Rangers, my friends and family gave me a wonderful four or five days at the end was amazing. I got to go up and play my last game in Canada in Ottawa and then play my last game at the Garden and say goodbye. It was a special time. I didn't expect to be on the cover of SI, but to be on the cover again, one last time, was nice.
NOAH GRAHAM/GETTY IMAGES (GRETZKY COACHING); COVERS: PAUL KENNEDY (1981); BRIAN LANKER (1982); PAUL BERESWILL (1988); BILL ROBBINS (1988); PAUL BERESWILL, JOHN IACONO, BILL ROBBINS (1989); ROBERT BECK, ROBERT ROGERS (MARCH 1996); AL TIELEMANS (OCT. 1996); DAVID E. KLUTHO (1999)