It's hard to choose among these greats

Readers of "The Sporting Scene" were asked two weeks ago to offer opinions on which of three recent mega-retirements in sport - basketball's Michael Jordan, hockey's Wayne Gretzky, or football's John Elway - was the greatest loss to sports.

The responses were thoughtful and varied. A sampling: Football survived before Elway and will thrive after. Walter Payton, Joe Montana, and a few others have been on the same plateau as Elway.

As for Jordan, he is the greatest basketball player of all time. But Magic and Larry, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, and a few others, managed to keep the sport in the limelight. Yet, Michael could play tiddlywinks and sell out a building.

Gretzky was different. To his sport, he was almost a savior. While Elway and Jordan hold records, other great players are interspersed in the record books. Gretzky rewrote and dominates the record books. Were he a basketball or football player and dominated either of those sports the way he did hockey, there might be no pedestal high enough.

Mike Bruckner, vice president Muhlenberg College Allentown, Pa.

John Elway does not rate alongside Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky. While the latter two are the greatest ever in their respective sports, Elway was not even the best quarterback of his era. Jordan and Gretzky led their teams to multiple championships; Elway only won when MVP Terrell Davis joined the backfield. Elway's triumph was more of determination than of ability, more will than skill.

That is precisely why Elway is our greatest loss. Jordan and Gretzky won, dominated. But with his dignity and perseverance, John Elway taught us how best to lose. Carlos Lozada Atlanta

Wayne Gretzky is The Great One. He has an everyman approach to his life and his sport. He comes from small-town Canada and has lived in big-city America. He makes big money but remembers his roots. A friend met Gretzky after a game in New York and mentioned a mutual acquaintance from Thunder Bay. Gretzky was genuinely pleased to make the connection.

Gretzky is a team player; his number of assists says it all. His slender physique is unexpected. His love of the game, his dedication, and his intelligence are what have made the difference. Dorothy Milburn-Smith Ottawa

At a time when the business of sports is business, such a mass exodus is more than just a changing of the guard. All three will be missed. But who the most?

My hunch is Jordan.

Why? Simple. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was estimated that Jordan's career in the NBA pumped $10 billion into the world's economy. Elway's NFL career helped sell soup. Gretzky is, well, Canadian.

That Jordan is recognized as the greatest basketball player ever to lace up a pair of Nike's also adds to the loss most sports fans feel with his departure from the game. But at core, it's the economy, stupid. Travis Lawrence Jonesboro, Ark.

The retirements of three modern sports legends will hurt, but they retired on their terms. For me, Wayne Gretzky is the greatest of the three. He was fantastic on the ice and just as good off it. How else do you explain how a boy of 14 could leave home and turn into a legend? Tim McCutcheon Victoria, B.C.

If there's one aspect of John Elway's game that has separated him from the pack, it's his unmatched rsum of 47 fourth-quarter comebacks. But Elway offered more than just calm nerves. There was an eagerness, a joy.

Sport is nothing more than entertainment. And for your entertainment dollar, John Elway has given us as much bang for the buck as any athlete in history. When I think of the best examples of entertainment that sport has ever provided, I think of Ali vs. Frazier, McEnroe vs. Borg, Magic vs. Bird, Cigar vs. Citation, and Elway vs. the Clock. Douglas Barricklow Dallas

When one considers the coming seasons in each sport without these super-stars, the sport that will be darkest without its star's light is hockey. More than anyone else, Wayne Gretzky makes you feel that everything is OK when he plays. This gentleman has a rare and special gift. Thanks for the memories, Mr. Gretzky. Shirley Ploughman Scottsdale, Ariz.

When one athlete is known around the world by his initials, and the other retirees are only known to the fans of that sport, does the question really need to be asked? Laura Griesedieck St. Louis

My initial reaction to the question was: None of the above. On the other hand, a jaded and somewhat cynical non-fan should probably keep his opinion to himself. However, non-fans do read about, hear of, and occasionally see superstars like Jordan, Elway, and Gretzky, and we do realize that they are an important part of our culture.

I cast a strong and positive vote for Wayne Gretzky, largely because my impressions of him reveal a very talented athlete who played his game deftly and with intelligence and without arrogant behavior. Fred Bauer Laconia, N.H.

The greatest loss is the retirement of John Elway. Elway's successes were earned outside, mainly, on natural grass where play was often hampered by field conditions and the elements. Cold, rain, and snow challenged Elway as did the opposition.

He defeated his opponents. He won despite the weather. He beat the clock. Robert A. Mott San Diego

I am old-fashioned enough to want my heroes to set a good example, to be a positive role model for our youths and for our society. All three of these men fit into this category. They remind us that the good guys can contribute positively to society and also entertain and amaze us with their athletic skills. They can be winners in all areas of life.

That said, I cast my personal vote for Wayne Gretzky. His playing skills made me want to learn more about the game of hockey. Betty Tauer Wamego, Kan.

I'm not a real fan of athletics. But I'm not completely ignorant. Everyone's heard of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaq, Elway, Brett Favre, Steve Young. But ask me to name another hockey great besides Wayne Gretzky and I draw a blank. And I'm sure there are others out there like me. So by default, Wayne Gretzky's retirement wins as the greatest loss to sports. Amy Harrison Fugman Madison, Wis.

As a 40-year-old, I feel my generation of fans is seeing the end of an era where we have lost the selfless, team-first athletes who actually seemed to care about the game they played, and more important their fans.

The younger athletes may or may not be better, but I am not sure many reflect the class that these three had. Leaving professional sports to the likes of Latrell Sprewell, Jeff George, and Allen Iverson is scary, to say the least. Alan Aldinger Springfield, Ohio

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