The reason Wayne Gretzky announced his retirement just two days before his final game says everything about his greatness

The world of hockey will never forget April 18, 1999. It was the day Wayne Gretzky said his final goodbye to hockey, and the day the greatest player of all time played his final game.

The New York Rangers played against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it wasn’t just an ordinary regular-season game. It was the legend of all legends saying goodbye, and there weren’t many hockey fans who missed it.

Madison Square Garden was packed, and everyone in the arena stood up during the pre-season ceremony, chanting his name.

The crowd featured some very unordinary names as well. Celebrities like Jerry Springer, Phil Esposito, and Christopher Reeve were there, and so were, fittingly,

Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, two of hockey’s all-time greats. Although it was two American teams playing, Bryan Adams was there to sing the Canadian national anthem and fittingly changed the words to, “We’re gonna miss you, Wayne Gretzky.”

Gretzky, with 894 goals to his name, was 38 years old. He drove to the game with his dad who, Gretzky revealed years later, tried to convince him to give it another season; that Wayne still had it in him. But his decision was final.

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 18: Wayne Gretzky #99 of the New York Rangers hugs his wife Janet on the ice after the Rangers played the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 18, 1999 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

The announcement of his career ending had happened just two days earlier. Friends, family, and perhaps teammates knew about it, but formally, it wasn’t officially happening until just two days prior to that day, to that game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky (in uniform) with his father Walter on the ice of Madison Square Garden on the occasion of Gretzky’s final professional hockey game, New York, New York, April 18, 1999. A car is parked on the ice behind them and the spectators in the stands give them a standing ovation. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

When Wayne played against the Ottawa Senators three nights earlier, on April 15, in what would be his final game in Canada, fans saw it coming. And days later, he officially announced it.

But why did he wait so long?

Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky, forward of the New York Rangers, walks back onto the ice for an encore after his final professional hockey game, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, April 18, 1999. (Photo by Jim Leary/Getty Images)

The reason says absolutely everything about his greatness, his love for the sport, and how much he cared about his team.

“He didn’t want it to be a gong show for 82 games: Wayne’s last season, last time he’s in New Jersey, last time he’s in wherever,” said Mike Richter, who started the game in net for the Rangers, to The Sporting News.

“He had that understanding of his place in the game and how that would be a distraction to the league and to our own franchise trying to play games.

“But at the same time, he also knew enough not to just decide to mail it in from a golf course in August saying ‘I’m not coming back next year.’ He was too important.”

Wayne Gretzky: Truly one of a kind!

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