"The Great One," NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, whose No. 99 is retired throughout the league, believes the NHL should give the same honor to the No. 9 jersey worn by his late childhood idol, Gordie Howe, who died on Friday.
Gretzky made his case on Tuesday during Howe's public visitation at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, per Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com:
I'm pretty biased. If I had my way, I would do it. But that's for the league.
I don't think anybody helped promote, support the game, the sport or our country better than Gordie Howe. He was proud to be a Canadian, proud to be from Saskatchewan. And I don't think the NHL is going to overlook the fact of how important he was to the game so I'm sure they are going to do something real special for him.
Per Sports Photos, the two met when Gretzky was just 10 years old, starting a friendship that would span over five decades:
Gretzky played junior hockey with Howe's youngest son, Murray, and later played with his hero in the 1979 WHA All-Star Game when Howe was with the New England Whalers.
"He was everything to me," Gretzky said. "He was a second father. He was a mentor. We played golf together. We did commercials together. We had a lot of time for each other doing things together."
The two were so close that Howe's family asked Gretzky to be a pallbearer at his funeral, which The Great One described as "one of the greatest honors of his life," per Rothstein.
The 55-year-old Gretzky is widely regarded as the best player to ever lace up a pair of hockey skates, as he holds NHL records with 894 goals, 1,963 assists and 2,857 points. In order to reach the top spot for the league's all-time goals and points records, though, he had to break Howe's marks set over a 25-year NHL career that spanned from 1946-1980.
Gretzky said, per Rothstein, that Howe's excitement when he broke his records is what made those feats even more special to him.
So while the NHL hasn't made any official decision regarding Howe's No. 9 jersey, the idea of league-wide retirement has the largest supporter possible for Mr. Hockey to get the recognition many believe he deserves.
Stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com.