When discussing the greatest athletes in any given sport, usually only a select few individuals enter the discussion. Even rarer are those legendary athletes who transcend their respective sports with matchless combinations of astonishing skill, uncanny scoring prowess, and a heap of championship hardware to back it all up. Athletes who changed their games forever: Babe Ruth, Pele, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, Tiger Woods.
Add New York Epsilon’s (Syracuse) Gary Gait to this illustrious list. Simply put, Gait is the greatest lacrosse player the world has ever known. If anyone cares to dispute this claim, please read on.
With his twin brother Paul, likely the closest competition to his crown as the game’s greatest player, Gary played any sport that was available from a young age—soccer, basketball, and of course lacrosse, at age four. The Gaits’ next door neighbours also happened to be a set of twins the same age: Greg and Grant Pepper. The four became partners in crime in any sport they could get involved in. In the end, lacrosse was their chosen path.
They chose wisely.
To start, Gary Gait has won every possible major lacrosse title a player can win, an achievement that is unmatched by any other player ever to play the game. It began in 1979 with a Canadian peewee championship, followed by a bantam national championship, then a midget national title and a U-19 Canadian field championship. The Junior A national championship might have been the toughest—it took six tries, but it, too, was captured in Gait’s last year of eligibility. In four years at Syracuse University beginning in 1987, the Gaits led the Orange to three NCAA championships with Gary picking up 1988 NCAA player of the year.
On to pro and the success only continued: three Mann Cups (two with the WLA’s Victoria Shamrocks), three Major League Lacrosse titles, three MILL/National Lacrosse League titles, the 2004 Heritage Cup, and the 2006 World Lacrosse Championship representing Canada.
Individually, Gait won the NLL MVP award a record six times, the MILL championship game MVP twice, and 2005 MLL MVP. He retired as the NLL’s all-time leader in goals (634), assists (526), and points (1160) and remains amongst the all-time leaders despite being passed by a handful of longer-serving players. He added sixty-six goals in twenty-two career playoff games.
Perhaps the Gait brothers’ greatest contribution however is the way they revolutionized the way the modern game is played and helped usher in the current professional game’s popularity across North America. It was in university with his brother Paul that Gary devised the aerial maneuver around the goal crease that came to be popularly known as the “Air Gait.” It proved so effective rules were made to restrict it. Other Gait innovations such as behind-the-back passing and shooting confounded opposing coaches and defenders alike. These “trick shots” are now an accepted and effective part of the modern game.
Only the second player in NLL history to have his jersey number retired, Gary Gait has been inducted into the US Lacrosse National Hall of Fame and was a charter inductee into the NLL Hall of Fame.