55 shades of Great: Random facts about Wayne Gretzky on his 55th birthday

The Great One's impact on hockey (1:04)

Pierre LeBrun reviews Wayne Gretzky's influence on the NHL. Not only was he "The Great One" on the ice as a player, LeBrun says he is the greatest ambassador for the sport as well. (1:04)

To celebrate Wayne Gretzky's 55th birthday, we dug up our favorite memories, riveting anecdotes, random stats and amazing facts about The Great One.

1. Brantford, Ontario: Born Jan. 26, 1961, to Phyllis and Walter Gretzky, Wayne Gretzky learned how to skate on a rink his father built in the backyard, nicknamed the "Wally Coliseum."

2. Brotherly love: Wayne is the oldest of five children; siblings are sister Kim and brothers Keith, Glen and Brent. Brent, a third-round pick in 1992 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, was the lone other Gretzky to make it to the NHL. Brent played 13 games over two seasons with the Lightning, scoring a goal and adding three assists. He finished his pro career in 2005-06 with the Motor City Mechanics of the UHL.

3. From 1 to 378: At age 6 in his first season, Wayne Gretzky scored just one goal in Brantford. But at age 10, he scored 378 goals in one season for the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers, which is still a record for that age group. By 13, he had exceeded 1,000 goals.

4. Learning greatness: Gretzky was 10 years old when he met Gordie Howe; meeting one of his heroes ended up being a better experience than he could have dreamed. Howe's class and the moment as a whole stuck with him and he remembered it when kids approached him after he ascended into hockey immortality. Gretzky simply epitomized class.

5. Great example: Gretzky also passed that attitude on to other great, young players. He once called Connor McDavid, then just 15 years old, on a random Sunday afternoon when McDavid was going to the movies with a teammate. Gretzky was just trying to show support for the next great, young player. "I was so in shock the whole time," McDavid told ESPN.com. "It's examples like that that just show what the hockey community is all about." When the best of all time has that kind of class, it's hard for other players not to follow his lead.

6. Being around The Great One: It never ceases to amaze how Gretzky handles himself around fans; it is routine for him to be interrupted repeatedly for an autograph or a picture. He never says "No." He always makes time for fans. What he learned from Howe and Jean Beliveau was to remain humble and always make sure to sign a proper autograph. He earned his nickname for his brilliance on the ice but the moniker also reflects the manner in which he has been an ambassador for the game off it. To this day.

7. Number change: Gretzky first started wearing No. 99 with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds during the 1977-78 season because No. 9 -- which he normally wore because of Howe -- was taken by another player, Brian Gualazzi. The number was suggested by his coach, Muzz MacPherson.

8. WHA contract: Unable to play in the NHL until age 20 because of age restrictions (since revised), Gretzky signed a seven-year personal-services contract with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association when he was 17 years old. Gretzky had played only eight games with the Racers before owner Nelson Skalbania sold his contract to Edmonton; lore has it Gretzky and a few other players were the stakes in a backgammon game that Skalbania lost to Oilers owner Peter Pocklington.

9. Never drafted: With all the hype surrounding big-name prospects today, you would think that Gretzky would have been a No. 1 draft pick. But he was actually never drafted by an NHL team. Gretzky was playing in Edmonton in the WHA when it merged with the NHL in March 1979. Each NHL team was allowed to claim two players from its WHA roster, so Gretzky moved to the NHL without going through the draft.

10. But his son was: Gretzky's son Trevor was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the seventh round in 2011. "I mean it's really exciting. We are so proud of him," Wayne Gretzky told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun after Trevor was drafted. "I could tell he was real nervous today. I told him it was different in the baseball draft. He handled it really well. And I told Trevor, 'I can't really relate. I was never drafted.' I tell you what though, when the Cubs GM called, that was really exciting. There's still a lot of work ahead of him but this was a special day." Trevor played the most recent baseball season with the Burlington Bees of the Midwest League, which is Single-A ball.

11. Calder Trophy: Gretzky had 137 points in his first NHL season, at 19, but he wasn't considered a rookie because of his time spent playing in the WHA. Gretzky won the Hart Trophy as MVP in his first season, but lost the Art Ross as scoring champion to Marcel Dionne, who was tied in points but had more goals. Ray Bourque won the Calder Trophy that season as top rookie.

12. 50 goals in 39 games: It is nearly impossible to score 50 goals in 50 games in today's game. But on Dec. 30, 1981, Gretzky scored his 50th goal of the season in just his 39th game, shattering the record held at the time by Rocket Richard and matched by Mike Bossy.

13. 92 goals: Last season in the NHL, Jamie Benn led the league with 87 points. Gretzky scored 92 goals in the 1981-82 season. It's a record that will never be broken unless the league decides to go to three-on-three all game long in an attempt to boost scoring. Even then, the Great One might be safe.

14. "You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.": Gretzky's famous quote from January 1983 was a response to Bob McKenzie, then editor of the Hockey News, saying to the Oilers' star, "You've taken a lot of shots this year." Gretzky finished the 1982-83 season with 348 shots on goal and a 20.4 shooting percentage.

15. The streak: In the 1983-84 season, Gretzky set a record with points in 51 consecutive games. The next closest is Mario Lemieux's 46-game streak in the 1989-90 season, followed by Gretzky's 39-game, 30-game and 28-game streaks.

16. O Canada: Gretzky competed internationally for Team Canada in the 1978 World Junior Championships (bronze); 1982 World Championships (bronze); 1981 (silver), 1984 (gold), 1987 (gold) and 1991 (gold) Canada Cups; 1996 World Cup (silver) and 1998 Olympics (out of the medals).

17. His best play? Gretzky to Lemieux, Sept. 15, 1987: Game 3 of the Canada Cup finals, Canada versus Russia, Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Ontario. Time remaining in regulation: 1:26. Final: Canada 6, Russia 5. Enough said.

18. 1988 Stanley Cup finals: In 28 career games against the Boston Bruins, No. 99 had 14 goals and 24 assists. But during the 1988 Stanley Cup finals, he had 11 points (three goals, eight assists) as the Oilers swept the Bruins for the championship.

19. Trophy case: While with the Oilers, Gretzky won nine Hart trophies, seven scoring titles and four Stanley Cups.

20. Lavish wedding: Gretzky's impact wasn't solely on the ice. The "Royal Wedding" between Gretzky and wife Janet Jones ranks up there as one of the most lavish moments of his life. The couple married on July 16, 1988, and the ceremony was broadcast live in Canada. The event reportedly cost more than $1 million.

21. Aug. 9, 1988: Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley were traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas (selected seventh overall in 1988), and three first-round entry draft choices, in 1989 (later traded to the New Jersey Devils, who selected Jason Miller), 1991 (Martin Rucinsky) and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar), and $15 million.

22. The Trade: The tearful media conference after Gretzky's trade -- no, his sale -- to the Los Angeles Kings was unforgettable. Is it possible for an entire nation to lose its innocence en masse? One thing is for certain, Gretzky's departure to the West Coast changed forever the Oilers and helped spark a hockey expansion to non-traditional markets that would help build the bedrock of the NHL's current pan-American footprint. In short, one country's great loss turned out to be the game's great victory.

23. The Actor: Gretzky hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 1989 but never actually agreed to the gig. He said his wife accepted the job for him and he found out while reading the newspaper on a plane flying to the Kentucky Derby. Is there anything better than Waikiki Hockey? Gretzky also made an appearance on soap opera "The Young and the Restless." According to IMDB, Gretzky has made 82 appearances in movies, TV shows and videos as himself.

24. Passing Howe: On Oct. 15, 1989, in Edmonton, Gretzky passed Howe as all-time points leader. Gretzky got an assist to tie the record and later a goal to surpass Howe's 1,850 points. After the game stopped for an on-ice ceremony to mark the occasion, Gretzky scored in overtime and the Kings beat the Oilers.

25. 1993 Western Conference finals: Sorry, Toronto fans (and referee Kerry Fraser), but let's include the 1993 Western Conference finals as a memorable moment. Game 6. Overtime. The Leafs lead the series 3-2 and are one win from going to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1967. In overtime, Gretzky clips Leafs star Doug Gilmour with a high stick, drawing blood. Gretzky should have been ejected but was not and later scored the overtime winner, forcing Game 7, which the Kings also won thanks to Gretzky. Did the missed call and subsequent Gretzky heroics change the course of hockey history? Better not ask Leafs fans.

26. 1993 Stanley Cup finals: Gretzky took the Kings to the Cup finals for the first time in franchise history in 1993, but they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games. Barry Melrose was coach of the Kings.

27. Cartoon: Gretzky, along with Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson, were featured on the Saturday morning cartoon "Pro Stars" from Sept. 14 through Dec. 7, 1991. Though the show is fondly remembered (despite the short run), there's one notable mistake: In the opening credits, the lyrics mention Gretzky taking a slap shot while he's scoring on the back hand.

28. NHLPA 93: EA Sports' "NHLPA 93" brought hockey video games to a new level (and is clearly better than "NHL 94"). Despite still being one of the best players in the league at this point, Gretzky was not particularly good in the game (overall rating: 77). Perhaps his greatest skill -- making seemingly impossible passes -- didn't translate very well.

29. Ugly sweater season: When one thinks of Gretzky, the image usually depicts him in an Oilers or Kings jersey (or perhaps even with the Rangers). But he did spend 18 regular-season games (plus 13 in the playoffs) with the St. Louis Blues in the 1995-96 season and had enough time to take an off-ice photo with Brett Hull in the club's disastrous sweaters from that era.

30. The captain: Gretzky played for four teams -- the Oilers, Kings, Blues and Rangers -- and served as captain of all four for at least one game.

31. Legends on Ice: Getting a "Legends on Ice" T-shirt that featured Gretzky and Howe was usually a big thrill for hockey fans.

32. The second-last game: Most people remember Gretzky's final game at Madison Square Garden for obvious reasons, because of the pageantry and a heck of a send-off by the New York Rangers. But the game before, in Ottawa, when his retirement had not been announced but word had started to spread that perhaps he was retiring, was also a big deal. The emotion from the Ottawa crowd for No. 99 at the end of that night is something that won't soon be forgotten. Just a wonderful Canadian moment.

33. More from Ottawa: That final game in Canada's capital was on April 15, 1999. During the game, Gretzky constantly changed sticks and jerseys so there would be mementos for teammates and others when it was all said and done. He knew it was a moment that would be marked perhaps forever because of his special place in Canadian history and he wanted to ensure that as many people as possible could share that moment.

34. Final stats: Regular season: 1,487 games played, 894 goals and 1,963 assists for 2,857 points. Playoffs: 208 games played, 122 goals and 260 assists for 382 points.

35. Century mark: Gretzky topped 100 points in 15 of his 20 NHL seasons, including every season from 1979-80 to 1991-92.

36. Times two: Four times Gretzky surpassed the 200-point mark: 212 points in 1981-82, 205 points in 1983-84, 208 points in 1984-85 and 215 points in 1985-86.

37. Goals created: The "goals created" stat from hockey-reference.com is a weighted look at the players most responsible for scoring. Gretzky is third all-time in goals created per game, with his 0.685 mark trailing only Cy Denneny (who played from 1917-18 through 1928-29) and Mario Lemieux. Alex Ovechkin is the leader among active players at 0.485.

38. Most career points: Gretzky is the only player with more than 2,000 career points. Second on the list is Mark Messier, who has 1,887.

39. Helping hand: Gretzky also holds the record with 1,963 career assists. His assist total alone is enough to make him the leading points scorer.

40. Record book: Gretzky held 61 NHL records when he retired in 1999.

41. Number retired: Gretzky's 99 is the only number retired by the league, so there will never be another No. 99.

42. Other 99s: Five other players had worn No. 99 in league history: Leo Bourgault, Des Roche, Rick Dudley, Joe Lamb and Wilf Paiement.

43. Special status: The Hockey Hall of Fame waived its normal three-year waiting period and inducted Gretzky in 1999, mere months after he played his final game.

44. California growth: Every time a player from California gets drafted, you can't help but credit Gretzky. The way he captured the imagination of fledgling hockey fans and helped grow the sport in California after The Trade is still felt to this day. Every time a guy such as Emerson Etem, Jason Zucker or Beau Bennett scores a goal, Gretzky should get another assist.

45. The Rant: The pressure on Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City to end a 50-year gold-medal drought was unreal. The Great One, then executive director of Team Canada, went on this rant after a 3-3 tie with the Czechs to help shield his players from that pressure. It worked.

46. The Realization: About 10 months earlier in Hanover, Germany, Gretzky was present for Canada's quarterfinals exit at the 2001 IIHF world championships. The next day, the look on his face said it all. He realized in that very moment the task ahead of the Salt Lake City Games; with one-game knockouts in international hockey, he knew winning gold at the Olympics would be difficult.

47. The Elation: Canada's gold medal win over Team USA in Salt Lake City lifted a burden off an entire nation. And it just added to Gretzky's unparalleled iconic hockey status in his native country, as it was the team he assembled that ended the 50-year drought. Afterward at the media conference, he was asked about his emotions. Relief was one of the prevailing emotions for Gretzky. So much pressure. But a gold medal came at the end of it all.

48. Coyotes' coach: As coach of the Phoenix Coyotes from 2005-09, Gretzky had a 143-161-24 record. The highest his team finished was 12th in the Western Conference standings. Gretzky stepped down as coach and head of hockey operations while the company went through bankruptcy proceedings. The NHL eventually took over operation of the team.

49. Coaching players who idolize you: Being coached by Gretzky was a bit difficult for some of the players who grew up dreaming of being The Great One. As Shane Doan detailed in The Players' Tribune, Gretzky took over as coach a few years after he retired, so players were getting yelled at by their childhood idol, not just their coach. "I'll never forget one time when Wayne got pissed at Steven Reinprecht for something. Afterward, it was like Reino was in shock. 'I wore Wayne Gretzky pajamas as a kid and had Wayne Gretzky posters all over my walls growing up! I can't believe he just screamed at me!' It was like Santa Claus coming down the chimney and leaving a note saying he was disappointed in you," Doan wrote in the article.

50. Honoring Howe: One of the most indelible Wayne Gretzky memories came a year ago, when Gretzky and family members journeyed to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in February to attend a Gordie Howe tribute. Gretzky wasn't sure whether Howe was going to make it because of Howe's failing health, but so great was his respect for Howe that Gretzky wanted to make sure the special night would, indeed, be special and he committed to attend regardless of whether Howe would be there or not. Howe walked in to the tribute on his own but watching the care Gretzky took to ensure that Howe was going to be properly honored and cherished speaks to his understanding of not just the game but those who carved a place for the game around the world.

51. The owner: Gretzky opened Wayne Gretzky's restaurant in downtown Toronto in 1993. It's right around the corner from Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays play, and the restaurant showcases some pretty cool memorabilia. He has also previously been a partner of the Phoenix Coyotes and was part owner of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League with Bruce McNall and John Candy.

52. Renaissance Man: Gretzky knows hockey, but in addition to a restaurant he also makes wine and has a clothing line in his name. Wayne Gretzky Estates has vineyards in Ontario, British Columbia and California; and the Wayne Gretzky collection recently launched at Sears in Canada. You might not be able to play like Wayne, but you can eat, drink and dress like him.

53. Social media: Gretzky is on Twitter and Facebook.

54. The family man: Gretzky and Jones have been married 27 years and have five children -- Paulina, 27; Ty, 25; Trevor, 23; Tristan, 15; and Emma, 12.

55. Gretzky is a "PaPa": Gretzky became a grandfather one year ago when his daughter Paulina had a son, Tatum, with fiancé and professional golfer Dustin Johnson. According to Janet's Instagram posts, Grandpa is already trying to teach Tatum how to hold a hockey stick properly, but the 1-year-old is resisting The Great One's advice.

Contributors: Scott Burnside, Craig Custance, Sarah Goldstein, Paul Grant, Tim Kavanagh, Pierre LeBrun, Joe McDonald