WAYNE GRETZKYentered the NHL in 1979 as a phenom and set the standard for young stars (page50). He retired two decades—and 12 SI covers—later as the Great One, anine-time league MVP and the NHL's alltime leading scorer. Now coaching thePhoenix Coyotes, Gretzky, 45, talked with SI's Arash Markazi about what eightkey covers meant to him.

> 1981 (OCT.12)
I remember this picture so well. The photographer [Paul Kennedy] wanted me tokeep flipping the puck so he could capture the Oilers logo on the puckperfectly. I told him I wasn't sure I could do it, but I think he got it in thefirst couple of takes. You can see I'm pretty happy. The writer [E.M. Swift]had done my first story in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED three years before, but I neverthought I would get to be on the cover.

> 1982 (DEC.27)
A great honor. I think SI's Sportsman of the Year is the hardest award to winin sports. When the picture was taken I was in the middle of what would be a30-game point streak, so I didn't want to cut my hair. My hair was so long itwas going in my eyes, and I remember lying on a blanket they'd put on the iceand pushing the hair from my eyes after each shot. I guess the picture turnedout nice with my reflection on the ice.

> 1988 (MAY30)
This is my favorite cover. I was playing great, and we beat Boston in thefinals. To win the Cup that year meant so much. I also love this cover becauseI remember being honored that I was on the same cover as Larry Bird. I lovedwatching him play and have always admired him. Watching him go from being aplayer to a coach was an inspiration for me to get into coaching.

> 1988 (AUG.22)
This is a great cover because I had so much fun with Magic Johnson. When I cameto L.A. [in a trade that sent two players, three draft picks and $15 million tothe Oilers], Magic was one of the first guys to welcome me, and he was reallygood to me. It was Magic's people who came up with the idea and said let'spromote both the Lakers and the Kings, and wanted us to do this together.

> 1989 (DEC.18)
It was special. I was so young then [28], but I'm a big sports fan and beingincluded in anything with Magic and [49ers quarterback] Joe Montana is anhonor. [The cover hailed the three for dominating their respective sportsthroughout the 1980s.] Now that I know both of those guys, they are even nicerthan anyone would think. They're just as great off the court or the field asthey are on it, so it makes the honor that much greater.

> 1996 (MARCH11)
This was a bad time for me because I got traded. [The Kings sent Gretzky to theBlues for three players and two draft picks.] So I'm not a big fan of thiscover. That was one of the hardest times in my career, to leave Los Angeles andgo to St. Louis. [Gretzky played just 18 regular-season and 13 playoff gameswith the Blues before signing with the Rangers as a free agent.]

> 1996 (OCT.7)
Being with Mark Messier again made this fun. No one thought I'd go to New York,least of all me, and when SI asked us to do this, we jumped at it. We hadpractice and a luncheon and then we drove over and did the shoot on a sidewalk,near a fence. It was very cool. I knew I'd like New York, but I didn't know I'dlove it as much as I did. I had the greatest three years of my life there.

> 1999 (APRIL26)
My retirement was a bitter-happy time. I was disappointed that [my career] hadto end, but the way the people in New York, the Rangers, my friends and familygave me a wonderful four or five days at the end was amazing. I got to go upand play my last game in Canada in Ottawa and then play my last game at theGarden and say goodbye. It was a special time. I didn't expect to be on thecover of SI, but to be on the cover again, one last time, was nice.

To see everycover in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED history go to SI.com/covers.