Wayne Gretzky came from a place no one in Southern California had heard of until The Trade. Magic Johnson came to the Los Angeles Lakers from Michigan, a place nearly as cold and Brantford, Ontario.
Jerry West came from West Virginia, Luc Robitaille from Montreal. Neither one of them spoke much English when they came to Los Angeles, but Robitaille had an excuse while West just blames that on his West Virginia roots.
But it’s not about where they came from: It’s about how they got to Los Angeles, what they accomplished here and what made them so prominent in this town full of stars that they were all immortalized in bronze at Star Plaza.
Sure, you could make the argument that Luc Robitaille never won a Stanley Cup as a King. But then again, neither did Gretzky. Yet Saturday night, the Kings unveiled a statue of the legendary left winger and their current President of Business Operations outside of the Staples Center. Robitaille was only the seventh person to have the honor.
The organization and its owner, AEG, bestowed the honor on him for the very reasons that the respective teams did for Gretzky, West, Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, et all: Each one helped create a culture.
"I love the feeling of people wanting to talk about the Kings and the passion of our fans and now players want to play here," he said. "I love what we’ve accomplished with the way we’ve turned this franchise around as a group."
Robitaille is still helping to further that culture by putting down hockey roots in a town that was once thought to be too warm to grow them. He’s been influential in bringing the game to Southern California at all levels: Grassroots, juniors, the AHL expansion and the outdoor games.
"More than anything, he’s committed to growing the game in this market," said AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman. "He’s been able to build on the foundation that Wayne built for hockey in Southern California. He did it as a player, and now he’s doing it every day as the President of the Kings."
The Gretzky influence is undeniable, but the Robitaille influence is expansive as well. Robitaille has worked just as hard in the front office as he did as a player, creating what is fast-becoming an iconic brand.
"He’s taken his pride and his passion that he had for the game and he brought it with him to the business side," said former teammate, and current Kings’ assistant general manager Rob Blake. "To me, he is a true inspiration of why kids want to play hockey in Southern California."
Robitaille played with both the fearlessness and joy of a kid on a frozen pond throughout his entire 19-season career. He loved scoring goals, and he loved celebrating those goals, so it’s only fitting that his bronze figure shows him doing exactly that.
He learned from the best watching Gretzky, as every kid in Canada did, and for six seasons the two lit up the Forum scoreboard together. Now, they will forever share Star Plaza together.
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"I was just a kid playing a game. I loved it and it was like I gave everything I had every day," Robitaille said. "I was 13 years old, I remember 1979, and I had a picture of Wayne Gretzky in my room. I loved watching him. Every time I could see Edmonton, I had to watch Gretzky.
"Now there’s a Gretzky statue next to me. And it’s certainly weird, but it’s humbling and I’m grateful."
The Kings’ Legends Night series was completed with the enshrinement of a someone who was not only a legendary player, but a figure who continues to grow the legend of the L.A. Kings.
"There’s a lot more to accomplish. We love what we’ve done here with the Kings. We’ve got a lot more to give," he said. "A first-class organization slowly but surely will be coming. It’s an amazing feeling right now and it’s something that we’re going to be pushing for many, many more years."