TIME Sports

Why Wayne Gretzky Is Still ‘The Great One’

Simply the Best
The March 18, 1985, cover of TIME TIME

Wayne Gretzky became the all-time NHL career scoring leader on Oct. 15, 1989

Correction appended, Oct. 15, 2014, 1:45 pm

If you grew up in a hockey house like I did, your parents might’ve worshipped Wayne Gretzky as if he were the Messiah on Skates. And in a lot of ways he was: The Great One played a full two decades of NHL-level hockey, starting in 1979 with the Edmonton Oilers and ending with my hometown heroes, the New York Rangers, just before the turn of the century, racking up some 2,857 points in 1,487 regular season games. (NHL scoring gives individual players one point for a goal and one point for an assist, but those numbers don’t mean squat for the game at hand.)

Those 2,857 points made him — and still makes him — the League’s leading scorer. Gretzky toppled another hockey legend, Gordie Howe (1,850 points), to first take that title on Oct. 15, 1989, 25 years ago Wednesday.

Gretzky’s points total is impressive to say the absolute least. But as a kid who grew up loving hockey in Gretzky’s twilight years, it’s really this stat that stuck in my mind: If you take 2,857 points and subtract the points he got for goals, he’s still got more assists than any other NHL player has total points. (The next guy down, point-wise? Gretzky teammate and Rangers legend Mark Messier.)

As a young hockey fan, that fact instilled a simple lesson: Greatness can sometimes come from being the guy who puts the puck in the back of the net. But even more often, it comes from knowing whom you can count on to help you get that job done even better than you can. “How long Gretzky and [NBA star Larry] Bird play at the top and stay at the fair will help determine their ultimate reputations,” TIME wrote of Gretzky in a March 18, 1985 cover story about athletes at the peaks of their careers.

Gretzky stayed at the top for many seasons after that, but 25 years later his ultimate reputation is this: A life lesson that, while being the hero is nice, you don’t always have to shoot — sometimes it’s smarter to pass.

Read a 1981 story about the then-20-year-old hockey star, here in TIME’s archives: Hockey’s Great Gretzky

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of individual points an NHL player gets for a goal. The number is one.

MONEY Sports

Why Germany Is So Good At Soccer (and the U.S. Is So Mediocre) in 2 Charts

Germany's national soccer players Roman Weidenfeller, Shkodran Mustafi, Andre Schuerrle , Kevin Grosskreutz and Per Mertesacker celebrate
Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters

Hint: It's Focus.

As Germany takes the pitch Sunday, fresh off crushing Brazil’s World Cup hopes in a historic 7-1 blowout, it’s worth reflecting how Germany got there. Not the team; the country.

See, this isn’t Germany’s first grab at the sport’s brass ring.The German national team is one of international soccer’s most consistent powerhouses. German teams—including those from the Nazi era, post-war West Germany, and reunified Germany—have qualified for 18 of 20 World Cup tournaments and missed the quarter finals of those only once. The team has also made it to a mind-blowing seven finals — a 35% appearance rate — winning three of them.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States has not exactly replicated Deutschland’s success. The U.S. has zero titles and zero finals appearances, and reached the semi-finals only once, at the first World Cup in 1930. This year, we were eliminated by Belgium in the round of 16, and finished 15th overall in the tournament. Not bad by our standards, but not great. And certainly not befitting of a country with the world’s largest economy, 300 million people, and an extremely competitive national team in almost every other team sport.

So why is Germany is so good and the U.S. so mediocre? Following America’s most recent loss, many theories have been offered. We over-coach our players; our college system doesn’t mirror international play; we don’t have a soccer “culture.” There’s likely some truth to all of these answers, but there’s one I find most convincing: competition from other sports. The U.S. has only so much athletic talent, and unlike many other nations, we tend to spread it around. Germany, on the other hand, concentrates the vast majority of its athletic talent on soccer—and they’ve certainly reaped the rewards.

In order to visualize this, I’ve assembled pie charts showing the revenue breakdown of the most popular professional sports leagues. The numbers aren’t perfectly analogous—updated figures on smaller German team sports are hard to come by, sports seasons don’t coincide and sometimes span more than one calendar year, and we’re including only major team sports. But as a rough proxy for each nation’s athletic focus, they are offer a clear picture of the sports the two nations care most about and to which they dedicate the most resources and, as economists and others would argue, talent.

In the two charts below, the green pie slice represents the percentage of major team sports revenue that goes to soccer. As you can see, it’s not even close.

GermanySportsRevNew

 

USSportsRev

Soccer eats up the overwhelming majority of German team sports revenue, while in the US, it barely makes up a sliver. Germany’s three major soccer leagues each take in over €100 million, and their combined revenue is €2.8 billion—the equivalent of over $3.8 billion. There’s really only one major sport in Germany, with a few second-tier leagues running far behind.

In comparison, America’s MLS teams have a combined revenue of about $494 million, as estimated by Forbes in 2013 (the MLS does not release total revenue figures). That’s about 1/7th of the NHL’s revenue, and 1/20th of the NFL’s total income.

So next time you’re wondering why the U.S. isn’t good at soccer, remember: the American people are not exactly focussed on the “beautiful game.” All things considered, it’s surprising we aren’t worse.

Sources: BBL: Deloitte via SportsBusinessDaily; DEL: Deloitte via SportsBusinessDaily; 3. Liga: DFB official figure; Bundesliga: 2014 report; 2. Bundesliga: 2014 report; NFL: Forbes via Statistica; NBA: Forbes via Statistica; NHL: CBS Sports; MLB: Forbes; MLS: Forbes

 

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Soccer Will Never Be a Slam Dunk in America

Soccer doesn’t express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports: We are a country of pioneers, and we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded... with points.

Has the time finally come to slap a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet on soccer’s prospects for popularity in America?

If it were up to me, the answer would be no, because soccer players are among the strongest, fittest, most strategic athletes in the world. But, for various reasons, the sport itself does not seem destined for the popularity that supporters have been predicting for the last decade. I’m reminded of the end of Man of La Mancha, when Don Quixote lies dying, but is suddenly inspired to rise once more and proclaim, “Onward to glory I go!” And then he drops dead. Soccer has been proclaiming this impending U.S. glory for years, and while there are signs of life in the body, the prognosis is not good.

Once the World Cup is over, soccer in the U.S. will return to its sick bed and dream of glory.This dire diagnosis probably seems crazy in the face of the current World Cup TV ratings success. Between Univision and ESPN, 25 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. play Portugal last Sunday. Compare that to 15.5 million viewers that the NBA finals averaged this year, or the 14.9 million averaged in last year’s baseball World Series. Worse, the NHL playoffs averaged only 5 million viewers. Only NFL football consistently beats soccer’s best rating.

The problem with those statistics is that it’s like using the ratings of bobsledding during the Winter Olympics to declare a new renaissance for bobsledding in America. The World Cup, like the Olympics, happens every four years, so the rarity factor alone will account for inflated ratings. For a more realistic view of its popularity as a professional sport, we need to look at how many people watch on a regular basis. Major League Soccer (MLS) averages a mere 174,000 viewers (compared to the NBA’s average of 2 million and NFL average of 17.6 million), while their equivalent to NBA Finals, the MLS Cup, averaged only 505,000 viewers.

The MLS points out that more people on average attend one of their games (18,807) than attend either NHL (17,455) or NBA (17,408) games. While that may be true, the reasons for that appear to be pretty simple: cheaper tickets and fewer teams playing fewer games. Add that to the fact that comparatively few people watch it on TV, and you have a sport that produces much less revenue than other major American sports. Like it or not, in the end that is the measure of a sport’s popularity.

The obvious question is why hasn’t soccer taken off in the U.S. as it has throughout most of the rest of the world? After all, youth soccer has exploded over the past few decades. In 1974, only 103,432 youth were registered players. In 2012, registered players amounted to over three million. In all, 13 million Americans play soccer (compared to 26.3 million who play basketball). When you look at those figures, you notice that twice as many people play basketball as play soccer, yet ten times as many people watch basketball on TV. This is important because the more people watching a sport translates into more people wanting to play that sport. That’s the money-making cycle. Watch. Play. Repeat.

Is there something fundamentally different about watching soccer that turns people away by the millions? Apparently so. For one thing, there’s a lot of movement but not much action. American audiences see people kicking the ball to a teammate, only to have it intercepted by the other team. A lot. To the average American used to the hustle of basketball, the clash of titans in football, the suspense of the curve ball in baseball, or the thrilling crack of the slapshot in hockey, the endless meandering back and forth across the soccer field looks less like strategy and more like random luck. It lacks drama. Of course, that’s not true at all, but that is certainly the perception.

Why aren’t those millions of youth soccer players since 1974 watching? Perhaps another perception is that it is a kid’s game. Kids get to run around, kick something, and generally wear themselves out to the gratitude of parents. Parents who dutifully and diligently attend their kids’ games don’t seem inclined to tune in to professionals on TV.

Soccer is counting on the growing U.S. Latino population to raise its popularity. Between 2002 and 2012, the Latino population increased from 13.3% of the U.S. population to 17%. I’m certain that will be a factor, but perhaps not a huge one — this ling of thinking doesn’t account for children seeking more traditional American sports in order to assimilate. As many parents will attest, some children refuse to follow in their parents’ sweaty sneakers.

Finally, soccer doesn’t fully express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports. We are a country of pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise. As a result, we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded. The low scoring in soccer frustrates this American impulse. We also celebrate rugged individualism, the democratic ideal that anybody from any background can become a sports hero. We like to see heroes rise, buoyed by their teammates, but still expressing their own supreme individual skills. Certainly soccer has its celebrated stars, from Pele to Beckham, but those skills seem muted on TV where we’re often looking at small figures on a large field and therefore these feats appear less impressive than they really are. In football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, team effort is rewarded with points and individual greatness is as instant and immediate as a one-handed snagged football pass, a three-pointer from the corner, stealing home base, or a snap-shot of the puck into the goal.

Clearly, there are many dedicated soccer fans in the U.S. They play the sport, they watch the sport, they love the sport. But that group, though slowly growing, is not nearly enough to overcome the traditional favorites. To do that, it’s not enough that you’re as good as one of the popular sports, you have to bring something better. More excitement. More skill. More entertainment. For most Americans, soccer just doesn’t do that. And once the World Cup is over, soccer in the U.S. will return to its sick bed and dream of glory.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Photos

Photos: The Week in Sports

Kickoff of the World Cup, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup and the U.S. Open all made for a week packed with sports. Here are TIME's best photos from these athletic events

TIME hockey

L.A. Mayor Drops F-Bomb in Stanley Cup Celebrations

And it wasn't a slip of the tongue

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tactically dropped an “F-bomb” on live TV Monday night to celebrate the L.A. Kings Stanley Cup victory — and the fallout hasn’t been a disaster.

“They say never, ever be pictured with a drink in your hand and never swear,” Garcetti said in front of a crowd. He then disregarded his own advice, raised a beer, and declared to loud cheers, “But this is a big f—ing day.”

In case you missed it, Garcetti, who the LA Times notes is ” known for his disciplined campaign style and careful approach to governing,” reiterated the message on his official mayoral Twitter account.

While Garcetti has received some disappointed responses on his Facebook page for swearing in front of children, many don’t view the intentional slip of the tongue as a gaffe. Sports fans told the LA Times, “It makes me have much more respect for him” and “He was trying to connect with the fans — and he did.”

 

MONEY Sports

Stanley Cup Ticket Prices Collapse with Rangers Down 3-0

140610_EM_StanleyCup_1
New York Rangers Carl Hagelin (62), left, reacts as the Los Angeles Kings Willie Mitchell (33) and Slava Voynov (26), celebrate a second period goal by Mike Richards, center, during Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Monday, June 9, 2014, in New York. Kathy Willens—AP

A week after Stanley Cup ticket prices soared, the Rangers are on the verge of losing the series to the L.A. Kings, and seats at New York's Madison Square Garden are selling below face value.

Here’s hoping you didn’t buy tickets for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup last week, when prices for the “cheap seats” spiked over $1,000 as New York Rangers fans eagerly sought the chance to see their team fight for the championship for the first time in two decades. The Rangers lost the first two games of the series against the Los Angeles Kings in excruciating overtime sessions in L.A. And after the Rangers lost Game 3 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the bottom dropped out of the market for tickets.

As of first thing on Tuesday morning, the get-in price on the secondary market for Game 4 in New York dropped 42.62% compared to asking prices prior to Game 3, according to the ticket sale and research site TiqIQ. Before the Rangers had gone down 3-0 in the series—one loss away from elimination—the get-in price for Game 4 stood at $955, down only slightly from last week. Afterwards, the cheapest tickets were selling for $548.

And prices have continued to fall. At the popular ticket resale site StubHub, get-in prices were starting at $528 as of 7 a.m. on Tuesday, and they dipped to $488 by 9:30, then to $470 by around 10:15.

Prices have already dropped below the face value of what’s currently being offered to the public via Ticketmaster, according to TiqIQ’s Chris Matcovich, who anticipates a further fall in price as we get closer to Game 4. “The quantity is not extremely high so I expect them to fall some more maybe $300’s,” Matchovich said via e-mail. “The crazier thing is a lot of people spent $1000 to $1100 earlier this week for this game. Now they wake up this morning and the value of their ticket has plummeted.”

As for a potential Game 6 back in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the get-in price is now hovering at about $1,100. That’s certainly pricey. But it’s down significantly from last week, when the cheapest seats were selling in excess of $1,700. If there is a Game 6, of course, the Rangers will have to have won Games 4 and 5, and they’ll be within a couple more wins of making an amazing comeback. Potentially.

TIME

See Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Photos From the Mighty Ducks Movies

The quack attack is back jack!

Mighty Ducks trilogy cast member Marguerite Moreau shares exclusive photos from her time on set. Read an oral history of the Ducks films here.

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 15 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From tree huggers to hippopotamus teeth, here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

MONEY Sports

Cheapest Rangers Stanley Cup Tickets Already Starting at More Than $1,000

New York Rangers
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers makes a save against Scott Hartnell #19 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Five of the First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 27, 2014 in New York City. The New York Rangers won 4-2. Scott Levy—NHLI via Getty Images

New York Rangers fans have waited 20 years to see the team play for the Stanley Cup championship, and they're paying top dollar for tickets in New York City.

It’s been a long two decades since the New York Rangers were in the Stanley Cup Finals. Now that Lord Stanley is within the Blueshirts’ grasp, diehard fans are paying big money for home game tickets.

Heading into Game 6 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, tickets on the secondary market were averaging about $800, with the “cheapest” seats selling for $350. Within hours of the Rangers defeating the Montreal Canadiens, sending the New York squad to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since Mark Messier led the Rangers to the championship in 1994, those $350 seats truly do seem cheap. So do the $800 tickets for that matter.

“People are dying to see this team back in the Stanley Cup Finals,” Connor Gregoire, of ticket resale and aggregation site SeatGeek.com, told a New York CBS station in advance of Game 6.

As of Sunday morning, it wasn’t yet determined who the Rangers would face in the finals. But, because either opponent (Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings) would have home ice advantage, it was clear New York would host Game 3, 4, and (if necessary) 6 at MSG—and ticket prices for those games skyrocketed. At StubHub, the cheapest seats for Game 3 were going for more than $1,000. Meanwhile, tickets for Game 6, the last game of the series that the Rangers could possibly host, were starting above $1,500. According to ticket aggregation and research site TiqIQ.com, the average ticket price in New York ranged from $2,200 for Game 3 to more than $2,700 for a potential Game 6.

Prices haven’t changed much since it became clear the Rangers will be playing the L.A. Kings for the Stanley Cup championship. As of Monday, the cheapest prices for Games 3 and 4 at MSG started at more than $1,100, and Game 6 tickets were available for $1,700 and up.

Those are the least expensive tickets, mind you. Lower section seats near the glass for Game 3 were posted with asking prices of more than $7,000 apiece at SeatGeek.

As the Daily News recalled, the Rangers’ 1994 dramatic, long-awaited championship is still remembered fondly by fans, who had suffered through 54 years without a Cup:

“The waiting is over!” play-by-play legend Sam Rosen bellowed. “The New York Rangers . . . are the Stanley Cup champions! And this one will last a lifetime! No more curses. This is unbelievable.”

Today’s New York fans are hoping that the magic comes back to Madison Square Garden ice, and that their wait for another championship ends at the 20-year mark. Those lofty ticket prices demonstrate how badly fans want to see the team hoist the Cup. They also show how crazed Rangers fans are in general.

The same can’t be said of the fan base in Los Angeles, which isn’t exactly known as a hockey town. Last week, the Chicago Tribune noted that NBC, which is airing the games, must be rooting for the Blackhawks to make the Stanley Cup Finals because an Original Six Rangers-Blackhawks series would blow away a Rangers-Kings showdown in terms of TV ratings, thanks to Chicago’s diehard hockey fans.

Likewise, ticket prices probably would have been higher for a Stanley Cup home game in Chicago versus sunny Los Angeles. On Friday, tickets for Game 6 that night at the L.A. Staples Center, when the Kings could have closed out the series against the Blackhawks at home, were starting at around $120 on the secondary market. Now that we know the Kings are in, ticket prices on StubHub are starting below $500 for Game 1 in Los Angeles, or less than half the get-in price at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Tickets to a potential Game 7 in Los Angeles are available for just a smidge more than $1,000, “cheap” compared to the going prices in NYC.

TIME The Brief

Boko Haram Proposes Schoolgirls-for-Prisoners Trade in Nigeria

Welcome to #theBrief, the four stories to know about right now—from the editors of TIME.

Here are the stories TIME is watching this Monday, May 12:

  • Boko Haram released a video depicting what appears to be the kidnapped girls. Leader Abubakar Shekau demanded the release of Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the girls.
  • Donald Sterling apologized for the racist comments that got him banned from the NBA, calling them a “terrible mistake.”
  • Vladimir Putin dominated an exhibition hockey game on the eve of eastern Ukraine’s referendum for succession from the Kiev government.
  • Bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst won the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest.

The Brief is published daily on weekdays.

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