As a five-year-old kid, you don’t put a lot of consideration into who your heroes are going to be. For me, Joe Sakic was on a level with Batman as figures who could do no wrong. I grew up with Sakic as the captain of the Colorado Avalanche, through his MVP season, two Stanley Cups, Gold Medal and now Hall of Fame induction. What sets him apart from most athletes is that his legacy has not been diminished. He’s as likable to me as a 22-year-old as he was at the age of five.
Sakic came along at the right time for kids my age to attach to him. Growing up in Denver, there was the Denver Nuggets Dikembe Mutombo who I liked because of his long name, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo, which the P.A. announcer at the old McNichols Arena would read off during pre-game introductions. There were the Blake Street Bombers from the Colorado Rockies, including Larry Walker, Andres Galaraga and Dante Bichette. Then, of course, there was John. The rest of the country may know him as John Elway, but the whole state of Colorado is still on a first name basis with the Denver Broncos Hall of Famer and mastermind behind the dawning Peyton Manning era.
Sakic was different. He came into Colorado from Quebec and led the Avalanche to a Stanley Cup in their very first season. Sakic had a cast that fit around him nicely including Peter Forsberg, Adam Deadmarsh, Adam Foote and Patrick Roy. However, Super Joe was on another level. Sakic was the Captain, the Canadian that gave Colorado its first championship. He was impossible not to adore and the city loved him.
Over the years, everyone else left or retired. Finally, only Sakic remained from those years. One element of the perfect role model is longevity. Sakic almost went to the New York Rangers and that would have hurt his image in Colorado. Carmelo Anthony is a prime example of a local hero turned villain. The act of leaving is often seen as selfish, unless a team lets you go like what happened with Manning. However, if Manning gets another championship in Denver, will that diminish slightly the love Indianapolis has for him?
Sakic was nice, but not so nice that it made people hated him, unlike Tim Tebow. While the media gave him a hard time and called him Quote-Less Joe, he always said the right thing, stood up for his teammates and was polite. Behind the locker room’s closed doors, he spoke out and was a huge prankster. The public view of Sakic made him one of the most respected players in the game.
Sakic invested himself in the Colorado community. His wife Debbie and his kids have been big parts of the state since they arrived. The family has been heavily involved in Colorado charities, including the Food Bank of the Rockies. Sakic coaches his kids’ hockey team and there was no talk about him leaving Colorado after retirement. Sakic is now an Associate Governor and Executive for the Avalanche.
Looking at other comparable role models, Sakic was not entangled in a performance enhancing scandal like Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire or Lance Armstrong. He did not diminish his legacy like Michael Jordan did through his troubles with the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats. He did not leave like Lebron James or fall mightily like Tiger Woods. He did not even continually try to come back like Peter Forsberg.
The Charles Barkley argument of sports states that athletes are not role models. I disagree simply because fans provide the money for players to take the field, either directly through ticket sales or indirectly through television revenue. On a deeper level, though, five-year-olds look up to these figures on their television screens and in arenas no matter how they act off the court. Sakic is a rare example of someone who lived up to his fans’ adoration throughout his career. He played the game and carried himself the right way. There will likely never be another Joe Sakic, but his play and his demeanor should serve as an inspiration to athletes trying to achieve Hall of Fame success.