Bruce McNall has always been intrigued by the idea of undiscovered value. When he was in the third grade, shortly after he had been introduced to the world of coins by one of those little starter kits, he wandered into a numismatic shop in Arcadia, Calif., and happened upon a pair of 2,000-year-old Roman coins.
Get this: The coins were on sale for a dollar apiece. "Can you imagine?" he says. "Something 2,000 years old, with all that history behind it, selling for one dollar?"
The notion boggled his eight-year-old mind. It was as if he had just been introduced to a world populated entirely by schmoes. Remarkable value was to be had just for the poking around, just for the asking. Just for a dollar!
This was powerful knowledge, and here is how he used it. At 15, with inventory he had built through his own mail-order business in ancient coins, McNall opened a numismatic shop. At 16, having sold out to enroll at UCLA and study ancient history, he had $60,000, a Jaguar XK-E, one apartment near campus and a grander one a little farther away. At 20, cajoled back into business by some of his professors and their wealthy friends, he opened a new coin shop, this time on Rodeo Drive. He appraised a coin collection belonging to J. Paul Getty and told Getty it was "junk," after which he became Getty's adviser on numismatics.
At 24, in 1974, McNall bagged the Athena Decadrachm, known to collectors as the Mona Lisa of Greek coins. Valèry Giscard d'Estaing, who would become president of France, had wanted it. So had Aristotle Onassis. Until McNall bought the Athena Decadrachm, the record price for a coin sold at auction had been $100,000, but, to his way of thinking, that coin had nothing resembling this one's value. He was surrounded by schmoes. He put in a winning bid of $420,000, left everyone reeling in disbelief, and within a week resold the Athena Decadrachm for $470,000. Here was another important thing to know: Whoever has the best property dictates the economy of its market.
We move on. At 38, having become the country's dominant dealer in antique coins, started a film company, established a string of thoroughbreds that would number 300 and bought the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, McNall paid the Edmonton Oilers $15 million for Wayne Gretzky, the Athena Decadrachm of hockey. A foolhardy bid, don't you think, when you consider that the entire Kings franchise, which was losing money at the rate of $4 million a year, had set McNall back $20 million? Schmoes!
Average attendance at Kings home games went from 11,667 in 1987-88, the season before McNall took over the team, to nearly 16,000—98% of capacity at the Forum—this season. Over that same span, the average ticket price more than doubled. Sellouts have become routine in a city about which former Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke once said, "There are 800,000 Canadians living in Los Angeles, and I've just discovered why they left Canada: They hate hockey." This season 34 of the 40 games at the Forum were sold out. The value of the Kings franchise may be as high as $100 million.
We move on, a little faster now. At 40, having just paid $5 million for the Toronto Argonauts, once the jewel of the Canadian Football League but lately gone to seed with the rest of the CFL, McNall decided to re-Gretzkyize Canada (it's only fair). In unlikely partnership with Gretzky and actor-comedian John Candy, McNall plucked Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, the NFL's likely top pick in the April draft, out of reach of the richer and more established league south of the border.
Ismail cost the partners $14 million, minimum, almost three times what they paid for the team, and schmoes are still second-guessing McNall on this one. How can he possibly recoup that investment in a failing league, especially with a player who may not turn out to be the Athena Decadrachm of pro football, who may in fact be nothing more than a buffalo nickel? It's easy, explains McNall: Attendance at Argo home games goes from the current average of 31,676 to 40,000, with corresponding increases in TV and other revenues—and it all happens next year. After that, the wealth that falls on McNall and his partners will be embarrassing.
Who can doubt this man, who parlayed a childhood coin collection into a personal fortune that he estimates at a couple of hundred million? Who underestimates his sporting sense, which with one bold stroke turned hockey into Los Angeles's glamour sport? Everything McNall touches turns to gold. Take Gretzky.
After arguing over proper compensation—McNall, a terrible negotiator, wanted to pay the Great One about $3 million a season; Gretzky, equally inept, wanted to play for less—the boss agreed to pay his new employee just $2.25 million a year for the next eight years if he were allowed to make Gretzky some money on the side. Gretzky recently earned $2 million off Saumarez, a horse McNall had put him on to, when Saumarez was syndicated. In March, McNall and Gretzky went halvsies on the world's most expensive baseball card, which collectors have since decided is undervalued at the $410,000 the two men paid for it.
Take those Roman coins. (We go back.) What do you think they're worth today, 2,000 years old, all that history? We schmoes want to know, we're resigned to our schmodom, we're leaning forward in our chairs. "Apiece?" asks McNall. "About a buck."
Two weeks ago the Kings, who have never advanced beyond the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, failed to do so once again, losing in six games to the hated Oilers. The defeat was especially hurtful because the Kings, who had won their division with the league's third-best overall record, believed that this was their year. Gretzky had turned 30 and, after 12 seasons in the NHL, was possibly in decline. (He's still the best in the league, even in decline.) Publicly the Kings said things like, "Sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win," but privately they expressed a sense of blown opportunity, of time having run out.
After the last game, the L.A. players wandered about the locker room in Edmonton as if they had been lobotomized. Kings coach Tom Webster, who is wrapped so tight that he ought to have TITLEIST stamped on his forehead, emerged from his dressing room and told general manager Rogie Vachon that he wasn't going to hit anything. Vachon, startled, agreed that this was sensible. Gretzky, who seems impaired by guilt when he plays his former teammates, appeared ready to weep.
Meanwhile, McNall and his wife, Jane, had already taken a limo to the airport. The most important talk of the ride concerned baby-sitting arrangements for the McNalls' two children, Katie, 8, and Bruce, 6. Later, McNall, looking very much unlike a just-defeated owner, was relaxing on the team plane, a 727 outfitted entirely with first-class seats, when the pilot hollered, "The bus is here."
Someone whispered, "Uh-oh." McNall thought for a minute and said, "Quick, close the doors and start taxiing." But the plane remained at rest until the distraught players had boarded, leaving McNall to complain, "Nobody has a sense of humor."
As it turned out, everybody had a sense of humor, sort of. However morbid the bus ride might have been—"The driver stopped on some tracks with a train coming," said a Kings official, and it was clear that he had mixed feelings about the team's subsequent escape the flight became a minor hoot under McNall's influence. Vachon characterized one of the Edmonton players as a "bowling ball with ears stapled to his back." Even Webster was seen laughing. Plans for next season were made. Gretzky ambled forward and took some ribbing at the expense of his own ears, one of which had 25 stitches in it. The Kings' torment was suspended.
"I feel sorry for the players and the coaches," said McNall during the flight. "Some of those kids, when I went in the locker room after the game, were crying. This will be a long off-season for them. I went over to congratulate [Oiler owner Peter] Pocklington, and he was shaking, just shaking. Win or lose, this is all they [members of both organizations], have." It's amazing to McNall. All they have!
The next day, in his sculpture-filled office in Century City, McNall spread out computer printouts of the results of every major horse race held in the world over the weekend. He might buy one or two of the winners. David Begelman, the former Columbia Pictures executive who is McNall's film partner, phoned about their new movie, a teen comedy called Mannequin on the Move. There was also the prospect of brokering a cache of gold salvaged from the wreck of the SS Central America off the coast of South Carolina. And there were those Argos.
Candy, just back from shooting a movie in Rome, had plans for the halftime show at the home opener in July. He reported that Dan Aykroyd had agreed to perform with his Elwood Blues Brothers Revue. Still, you could not say the Kings were no longer on McNall's mind. "It hurts him more than you know," said Jane. But the hockey team had receded to a seasonal corner of that jumbled brain. What was it McNall had said in the limo as it pulled away from Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum? "Rocket, go deep."
This, lately, is how the world of schmoes thinks of McNall: He's the man who committed $14 million to a college junior who returned some punts and kick-offs and caught the odd pass at Notre Dame, and he is hoping to recoup this investment in a floundering league that has no national TV contract, in a country that has fewer people than California. Only three of the eight CFL teams turned a profit last season, and several are rumored to be about to fold. Among NFL players, only Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers has a salary comparable to Ismail's, and Montana is a proven star in a much larger market, not to mention a player who, unlike Ismail, handles the ball on almost every offensive play.
There is, in fact, no way to justify McNall's outlay, not in terms of football's traditional economics. The Dallas Cowboys, who traded up for the No. 1 draft pick, bowed out of the bidding for the Rocket when they learned they would have to pay close to $3 million a year to keep him out of McNall's grasp. One agent said Dallas should thank its lucky-Lone Star that it didn't offer Ismail that kind of money, because for all the Cowboys' profitability, they couldn't possibly have earned a return—kick or otherwise—on the investment.
"That would have been bad business," says McNall. Bad business to pay $3 million when you are America's Team, but not bad business to pay $4.5 million when you are not even Toronto's team? (The Blue Jays are.) "The problem is they [the Cowboys] think of him as a football player," says McNall. "As a football player, he's worth a fraction of that, say $200,000. But it's not, Can he catch passes? It's, Can he fill seats?"
That is of marginal concern to NFL teams. If Ismail, all 175 pounds of him, did happen to survive in the brutish bigger league, if he did exude star power, it would make no difference to Dallas's bottom line. Ismail might help an NFL team win the Super Bowl, but he could not appreciably improve the franchise's income. Most of that comes from the league's huge television revenues, which the 28 teams share equally. "But what if 10,000 more people come to see him at every home game?" says McNall. "That's 10 games at $22 a ticket times 10,000—$2.2 million. That'd be a start, wouldn't it?"
McNall speaks from experience. The season he brought Gretzky to Los Angeles, attendance at Kings games jumped 27%, and the team finally went into the black. Besides becoming winners on ice, the Kings have become a marketing phenomenon. The NHL reports that Kings gear accounts for 40% of league-licensed products sold. North America's Team? The Kings have made so much money that Gretzky says he's now at peace with McNall; the boss didn't squander his money on him after all. "For the first time since I've come here, I haven't been thinking of that $15 million," says the Great One. "It's been repaid."
It is not lost on McNall that, unlike Gretzky when he came south, Ismail is hardly proven. Fie could turn out to be another Doug Flutie—a college star who has been less than sensational as a pro—although nobody thinks that likely. And if Ismail is as electrifying as McNall hopes, the Rocket might be tempted to try to leave the Argos to play for the Los Angeles Raiders, the team that selected him in the NFL draft. Yes, there are things that could thwart McNall's plans. "But I'm a player," McNall says. "Think of what we can accomplish in the CFL, in Toronto. Think of the potential."
The schmoes look at the world and see price tags and feel nervously for their wallets, but McNall looks at it, sees revenue and phones his bankers. He sees potential all around, in wonderfully diverse areas. These days, McNall scouts the world in his 727 or his JetStar or his jet helicopter. He also relies on a vast network of well-placed employees to turn up overlooked value. Those Roman coins never appreciated the way McNall thought they would, but enough other investments did to allow him to afford homes in Holmby Hills, Malibu and Palm Springs, Calif.; New York City; Deer Valley, Utah; and Hawaii. You just have to consider the potential.
That's what McNall always did, according to his mother, Shirley. Her husband, Earl, a retired college biochemistry professor, liked to keep their two children occupied in activities other than watching television, so he filled the house with games and books. Young Bruce, who could read at age four, methodically went through series of adventure books. But what he really attacked was Monopoly. "Boy, did we want to ditch that game," says Shirley. "He was impossible to play with. He always went for the high-priced properties, and he seemed to know right when to build."
But he wasn't headed for a career in real estate—that business bores him. Rather, he always had a penchant for collecting, a drive to complete things that could be called obsessive. To his mother, well, this trait was at least puzzling. "He'd ask to go to the bank to look through its pennies," says Shirley. "It was weird."
But, going back to those Roman coins: The idea that something from a distant time and place could be handled between your fingers fascinated him, and he was inspired to read about the emperors stamped on those coins. By the time he was 12, he realized he had become a prodigy of sorts, an expert in a narrow field of history, not to mention a budding dealer in a thinly traded hobby. Shirley remembers the family's visit to the Louvre during a 1963 European vacation. "We spent it in the classics wing, looking at antiquities," she says. "Can you believe we never saw the Mona Lisa?"
"Nobody in Los Angeles knew much about that history or the coins," says McNall. Even as a teenager, he discovered that he could take advantage of local coin dealers, buying one shop's ancient coins for almost nothing and then selling them to another dealer for a profit. "It was cherry picking," he says. Eventually the shops caught on and refused to deal with him, but they did pay him to make up price lists for their ancient coins.
It occurred to McNall that he could do the same for himself. So he typed up a price list of his little inventory, mimeographed copies of it at his high school and began advertising. That led to his having his own corner at Coins of the World, Etc., a shop in Arcadia where he was supposed to sell U.S. coins for the owners. What happened, though, was that McNall steered customers away from U.S. coins to his own collection of ancients. "I didn't mean to," he says. "It was just my enthusiasm for my coins."
What money came in he committed to rarer coins. "My parents would get concerned when I bought some coin for $2, 000," he says. "Then I'd have to hustle my collection to somehow pay for it."
By the time he enrolled at UCLA, in 1966, he assumed he had grown out of his hobby. The $60,000 he realized by liquidating his collection was nice, but he planned to become a professor of Roman history, and during his freshman year he devoted himself entirely to his studies. But in a way he kept plundering his old collection. He found that in many of his courses he could steer the paper toward his expertise and write on some arcane topic in ancient history. The history and the classics professors cultivated him as a kind of social pet. "I was paraded around like a freak," says McNall.
His teachers introduced him to Sy Weintraub, owner of Panavision, and other entertainment moguls like Begelman, David Geffen and Leonard Goldberg. They began to buy coins on McNall's advice, and they began to make money. And when they made money, McNall made money, which was a problem for a 19-year-old in those radical times. "These weren't the '80s, remember," he says. So, for appearances' sake, he bought an old Corvair to drive around campus. The Jaguar was reserved for calling on moguls.
The dual life didn't last long. In 1971, after McNall was awarded a Regents Fellowship, a very big deal in the California university system, something snapped. With the fellowship, says McNall, "I was working on my doctorate and making $8,000—every graduate student's dream. Then it occurred to me I was doing $3 million in gross sales on the side. This was crazy. I quit the [UCLA] doctoral program, but not because of the money. It was the action."
He formed Numismatic Fine Arts, the shop on Rodeo Drive, and acquired an increasingly glitzy clientele and a worldwide reputation. Soon he was selling to the Louvre as well as to Nelson Bunker Hunt. McNall was making money, but he was also making important contacts. Hunt led him into sports ownership by arranging for McNall to buy stock in the NBA Dallas Mavericks. That friendship also led to horses, with McNall arranging the syndication of 400 of Hunt's thoroughbreds, two of which were the stakes winners Dahar and Estrapade. Later McNall formed his own string, Summa Stables, which has included Trempolino, winner of the $1 million Arc de Triomphe in 1987, and Golden Pheasant, winner of the 1990 Arlington Million.
Grateful clients in the movie business steered McNall toward profits in their field as well, until McNall finally said, "Let's do this right." In 1979, he formed Sherwood Productions, which gave us WarGames and Mr. Mom. Four years later he merged Sherwood into Gladden Entertainment Corp., which has produced Weekend at Bernie's and The Fabulous Baker Boys. The movie business seems to excite McNall least of all, though he promises to get more involved in it now that Candy—ol' Uncle Buck himself—has become more involved with him through Candy's interest in the Argos.
You will not be surprised to learn, after all this, that it was collecting that led McNall to ownership of a hockey team. Jerry Buss, then the owner of the Kings and still owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, collected U.S. coins, but he and McNall had run into each other through another of their shared enthusiasms, stamp collecting. Eventually they became friends. Buss, intrigued by McNall's interest in hockey—he was a longtime Kings fan-sold him 25% of the team in 1986 and another 24% the next year. In March 1988 McNall bought the rest.
McNall tinkered with the Kings, changing the team colors and increasing the staff, but he knew he couldn't galvanize Los Angeles, a star-driven town if ever there was one, without the hockey star. Buying Gretzky from Edmonton was the only move that made sense to him, even at the princely sum of $15 million. This would be the most valuable piece McNall had ever collected.
The strangest part of the negotiation, though, was not McNall's dealings with Pocklington but his arrangement with Gretzky. After all, that $15 million bought nothing more than two years of Gretzky's services under his existing contract with the Oilers. "It's hard to amortize $15 million over two years," says McNall.
Thus the famous reverse negotiation, in which McNall tried to pay more than Gretzky would take. The following is not reprinted from Donald Trump's An of the Deal. "[Gretzky] wrote down a figure," says McNall, "and I said, 'Don't you think that's a little light, considering I paid $15 million for you? I mean, that looks silly.' "
But Gretzky believed the franchise was too fragile for him just to take the money and skate. McNall, broke, would be forced to surround him with junior hockey players. "The Kings were drawing seven or eight thousand people," says Gretzky, underestimating attendance by a few thousand. "How could I take $4 million a year? I wouldn't feel good. If we were to eat dinner together, I'd want to be able to look him in the face."
McNall figured that when you purchase a player for almost what you've paid for the entire team, then pay him $2 million-plus per year and expect him to quadruple your assets, you are not just hiring somebody. You are enlisting a partner. However, there was no way McNall could formalize such an arrangement. According to NHL rules, he could not give Gretzky equity in the team. Instead, he pledged to include Gretzky in his deals involving horses and collectibles.
"What did I know about horses and baseball cards?" says Gretzky. "Well, as far as horses, I watched the Kentucky Derby every year. As far as baseball cards, I used to put them in the spokes of my bicycle." But he was smart enough to see that McNall knew more than a little about these subjects and was quite a bit richer for it.
Here's how the payback began. McNall invited Gretzky to the Derby in 1989, after their first season together in L.A. Gretzky, then as now, often accompanies McNall to important events; it's only p.r., but Gretzky feels it's another way he can chip away at that $15 million obligation. At Churchill Downs, the two sat in the stands watching the duel between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Just as McNall had turned collectors of U.S. coins toward his ancients, he infected Gretzky with his enthusiasm for horses. As Sunday Silence pulled ahead down the stretch, Gretzky was bouncing up and down, "I gotta have a horse!" he shouted to McNall. "This is unreal! I gotta have a horse!"
What follows may say something about Gretzky, a charmed man, or something more about McNall, a shrewd one. A couple of weeks later, the Great One accompanied McNall to the Cannes Film Festival on the French Riviera. For the fun of it, he also accompanied McNall to Paris, where McNall inspected Golden Pheasant. He was not sure about the horse, but Gretzky, suddenly smitten, pushed McNall to pay $800,000 for the thoroughbred, and he put himself in for half.
That done, Gretzky grew antsy for results. McNall explained that it would be some time before Golden Pheasant could be transported to the U.S. to run in American races. "Let me put you in with some horses I have, and you can have some action in the meantime," he said.
He sold Gretzky a part of Frankly Perfect. He won the $300,000 feature at Golden Gate Park in his next race, in June 1989; a year later, Golden Pheasant was on hand to win the Arlington Million. A month after that, Saumarez, 25% of whom Gretzky had bought from McNall for $250,000, won the Arc de Triomphe, another million-dollar purse, and was promptly syndicated for $8 million. "I tried to tell [Gretzky] it's not this easy," says McNall. "But he just kept winning. I've never seen a run like that." Gretzky currently has 15 horses, calls McNall's horse people once a week and knows the Daily Racing Form as well as he knows Hockey Digest.
McNall has also put Gretzky into coins. He even persuaded Gretzky to buy a letter autographed by Alexander Graham Bell, who once lived in Gretzky's hometown of Brantford, Ont. The letter cost Gretzky $14,000, but he has since been offered $90,000 for it.
As for the Honus Wagner baseball card, that was Gretzky's baby all the way. One off-day in Chicago earlier this year, Gretzky was killing time with an autograph hound who haunted the Kings' hotel lobby. Gretzky idly wondered if it wouldn't be fun to invest in the rarest baseball card (do you hear McNall talking here?), which he assumed would be a Babe Ruth card. That's a $7,000 card, the hound told him. What you want is the 1910 Honus Wagner card.
Gretzky mentioned that to McNall. As it happened, the card was soon put up for auction at Sotheby's in New York City, and McNall asked if Gretzky was just talking or if he really wanted it. The Wagner was part of a full set of 1910 cards. Gretzky and McNall inquired and figured that the Wagner would go for about $300,000 and the other cards for $200,000. They agreed to go halves on the entire collection and to spend a maximum of $500,000. The 1910 cards without Wagner fetched $90,000, and where do you think bidding stopped on the Wagner? At $410,000, of course. "How did you work that out?" Gretzky asked McNall.
McNall moved Gretzky into the big time with the purchase of the Argos. Or was it the other way around? McNall was a member of the Hollywood Park board of directors along with Harry Ornest, then owner of the Toronto club. Ornest ran a tidy outfit, always making money but doing little to add to the value of the team or the league. Says Hugh Campbell, general manager of the Edmonton Eskimos, "I wouldn't say [Toronto] was failing, but it wasn't flourishing."
McNall thought that if he bought the team, he could bring some attention to it with a pair of prominent Canadians. Candy, a big hockey fan, had been bugging McNall to make the deal since he had heard his hometown Argos were for sale. Gretzky told McNall that this was a bigger opportunity than McNall knew. "This would be like owning the Dallas Cowboys," said Gretzky, getting carried away. "It's Canada's team."
Gretzky's and Candy's enthusiasm finally pushed McNall over the edge. He anted up $3 million to buy the Argos, and put his two co-conspirators on the hook for $1 million apiece. McNall wasn't sure what he would do with the team. He figured the marquee value of Candy and Gretzky would pull in some fans, and improvement in the team's performance on the field would pull in others. "I wasn't looking for a home run," says McNall. "I just thought there was a lot of tradition there, a terrific stadium, a lot of upside."
It had not occurred to him that he could find another Gretzky. Nobody in the NFL, he figured, could do for a CFL team what Gretzky had done for the Kings. The idea of drafting Ismail was actually a whim, and it wasn't even McNall's. Argo general manager Mike McCarthy claimed CFL negotiating rights to the Rocket almost for the fun of it. McNall became interested, had some figures drawn up and decided to offer Ismail $6 million over two years.
The negotiations were complicated, and the contract that the Rocket finally signed is probably not comprehensible to anyone without a Ph.D. in finance. Contrary to reports in the press, Ismail didn't receive any condos or equity in the team. The key features of the deal are $14 million guaranteed over four years, with bonuses linked to personal and team performance, stadium attendance and other team revenues. That's how speculation began that Ismail could reap upward of $25 million from the contract. "That's possible," says Suzan Waks, a McNall aide who negotiated the deal, "but then, they could have picked any number."
McNall thinks it would be stupid not to recognize that Ismail, even without equity, is a partner in this enterprise. It's he who will or will not fill the seats, attract a TV network to the CFL and generate league-wide interest. Says McNall, "People say, 'How can you pay a guy $25 million?' It's simple. If he makes you $75 million, then $25 million is not so bad."
When you talk to Ismail, he hardly mentions money. Instead, he says he was bowled over by McNall's intellect, personality and trailblazing attitude. Early in the negotiations, McNall dispatched his JetStar to South Bend to whisk the Rocket up to Toronto to look around and then out to Los Angeles so they could meet. The L.A. visit was memorable for both parties. "Have you seen his coins!" says Ismail. "It's ridiculous! Ridiculous!"
McNall was surprised to find that Ismail knew the history behind some of the coins. "I was stunned when he jumped in on some obscure topic," McNall says. For example, Ismail was conversant with the lives of some of the minor emperors.
While Ismail was in McNall's office, Gretzky happened to call. When he learned that Ismail was there, the Great One asked to talk to him. Gretzky suggested that McNall take Ismail on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. "I wasn't thinking," says Gretzky. "Then I remembered, I'm in for 20 percent."
McNall said, "Good idea, partner." And off they went.
"I promise you, dude, I saw Pretty Woman, but I thought it was a hoax," says Ismail. "Man, it was like a documentary. Ridiculous! And this guy [McNall] is walking down the street doing impressions of Rodney Dangerfield, cracking me up. And he's so darn smart—making money from coins—it's just ridiculous."
The shopping spree, in fact, never came off. Ismail just wanted to get some perfume for his mother, and when he finally settled on Fred Hayman No. 237, the store gave it to him for free. It is ridiculous. McNall was pleased to see that Ismail, in addition to attracting free perfume, was attracting attention from passersby. Maybe this was another athlete who transcended his sport. Maybe McNall really was in business.
This is increasingly risky business, however. When the deal was done, Candy called Ismail and affected a terrible regret. "Now I'll have to do four movies a year," Candy told him. Otherwise, Candy didn't seem too pained. McNall certainly is not sweating, nor is Gretzky. The Great One has come to assume that everything he and McNall do together will work out. When McNall told Gretzky that horse racing wasn't always like this, Gretzky assumed he meant it was actually better. Nobody on this team—Three Amigos North of the Border—has had anything but success, and none of them fears failure. "We're players," says Gretzky. (Who does that sound like?)
What's interesting at this point is not whether the three partners will fail or succeed with the Argos and Ismail, but what McNall will go after next. This odd kind of trophy hunting, with the hunter and the trophy sharing in the rewards, is not likely to stop here, is it? "Probably not," says McNall's mother. "I've been calling Bruce acquisitive for 30 years, and he does get worrisome at times."
She pauses, as mothers are wont to do. Truth is, she doesn't understand her son any more than the rest of us schmoes do. "You know, I'd always hoped he'd go into medicine," she says.