What can you say about Mario Lemieux retiring?
I was always a pretty big fan because he wasn’t a typical American (forgive me) athlete.
He didn’t try and put across a warm and fuzzy side, as so many huge American athletes love to do.
He didn’t try and claw his way into a bigger market, as so many American (and Canadian) athletes tried to.
In fact, the French-Canadian made his life in a startling American city — a city so American, it almost seems foreign.
And the crazy thing is, he learned to love it there.
Lemieux didn’t exude a joy for the game the way other players do. I think that put a lot of reporters off, seeing as how they live for those breathless sound bytes of players talking about their love of the game.
Lemieux always struck me as more sophisticated. As more realistic.
In fact, in my head, I always defined Lemieux by his 2002 Olympic move. Lemieux was in on an odd-man rush as Chris Pronger passed the puck to him. Lemieux lifted his stick, as if to make a play, and then let the puck slide past him to Paul Kariya on Lemieux’s other wing.
Mike Richter, the goalie, was setting up for a shot by Lemieux and so, was completely out of position for Kariya’s shot.
It was such a brilliant play. It was such a simple play. It was such an unglamorous play. It was a pure deconstruction of the game. While most NHL stars strive to make plays, Lemieux saw the game well enough to see value in not making plays.
I can’t think of many players with that kind of vision and selflessness.
Part of what made Wayne Gretzky so great was his flair for the dramatic. Gretzky was equal parts genius and entertainer.
But you have to respect Lemieux, who was all about the game.
In a lot of ways it’s sad that he didn’t spend more time smiling and cracking jokes.
People outside of Pittsburgh would probably be way more upset he’s leaving the game.