LOS ANGELES – In the relative quiet of his hotel room, kicking back in his desk chair, Bobby Orr still hadn’t quit smiling. “We laughed our butts off,” he says. “It was hilarious.”
The greatest defenseman in league history last attended an NHL All-Star game more than two decades ago, and only then because the 1996 installment took place at Orr’s old stomping grounds in Boston. “I don’t go far,” he explains, but special occasions call for special plans. Friday night, across the street here at Microsoft Theater, Orr had been honored among the league’s top 100 players from its first 100 years. Surrounded by fellow icons, he bathed in history.
No regrets about traveling cross-country for the festivities, we take it? “I’m thrilled that I came,” Orr says. “I’m seeing so many old friends. I loved sitting there. I recognized every guy.” He’s on a roll now, speaking as fast as he might’ve once rushed the puck up the ice. (Okay, maybe not quite that fast.) He fiddles with a reporter’s voice recorder while reflecting, unable to sit still. He raps the dresser counter with excitement.
“I thought the league did a nice job,” Orr says. “When the guys get together, that’s what’s so great about our game. You know what’s amazing? Do you know how many of those guys on that stage are still involved in our league? Ownership, GMs…how many of them? That says a lot. One, about the person, that they want to stay involved and continue to make our game great. And two: What does that say about our game? I think it says a great deal about the game.
“Last night was great. You know what? I’ve never seen it, and I’ll never see it again. It’s amazing. It was an amazing night. No sport will ever do that again. No way. No one’s ever done it. And they did it.”
For the well-actually crowd, it’s here that we must note how the NBA named its 50 greatest players in Oct. 1996, and subsequently recognized the group at its own All-Star game the following February. But let No. 4 have his fun with the grandiosity of the gala. "How about the goalies?” he says. “How about the defensemen? Holy crap. They’re good. They’re good.”
After all, where else could so many legends be found gathered in the same hotel lobby, reminiscing over breakfast or hobnobbing over drinks? Where else could Orr, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky sit together behind the same podium, as they did for interviews Friday afternoon? Where else could those three, plus new-guard reps Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby, convene for an NBC Sports roundtable panel hosted by the venerable Doc Emerick, as happened Saturday morning? What other event could leave the typically private Orr opening his hotel door, extending a firm handshake, and practically bursting with glee?
“I don’t spend any time with these guys,” he says. “I was with Wayne years ago. We played a benefit game [for Billy Heindl in 1980]. I’ve met them here and there, but I haven’t spent any time with them. It’s great. Jonathan Toews, what a nice kid. I think Sid’s all-world, a classy kid. He’s a good boy. I loved sitting there, I recognized every guy. Even the younger guys I recognized because I’ve watched them.”
And what other event could reduce an eight-time Norris Trophy winner and two-time Stanley Cup champion to the giddiness of any other fan, recapping the night and evaluating the list of luminaries itself?
“Now the debate will begin,” Orr says. Again, he laughs. “Has it begun? What are they saying? What are you hearing?”