Editor’s note: Bruins legend Bobby Orr turns 75 on Monday, March, 20. To celebrate, NESN will devote a night of programming to celebrating No. 4 turning the big 7-5. Tune in Monday night beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
One could argue that no athlete in the history of New England sports has ever been celebrated as much as Bobby Orr. You could also argue that no athlete in the history of New England sports has ever deserved to be celebrated more than No. 4.
The Bruins legend is about to celebrate his 75th birthday, offering the latest chance to pause and celebrate arguably the greatest player in NHL history. His on-ice achievements are matched perhaps only by Wayne Gretzky, but it’s who Orr is as a person that just about anyone lucky enough to come into his orbit remembers.
Orr doesn’t come around as often. He was never a huge fan of the spotlight in his post-playing days, making the rare appearances — like showing up to the 2023 Winter Classic at Fenway Park — even more special. Even when he’s not around, his presence still looms large in the best way possible.
Obviously, you can enter TD Garden without being reminded of his greatest moment. The famous statue sits where the old barn used to be, and it remains a favorite photo-op spot for not just black-and-gold-clad supporters. Even well-meaning fans of the Bruins’ most bitter rivals feel the need to get their pic with the flying moment frozen in time.
Bobby Orr through the years
Go up the escalators and through the doors, make your way into the arena, and reminders of Orr are there, too. His No. 4 assumes its rightful place in the rafters, and the Stanley Cup banners keep close watch over the modern-day B’s. That this celebration takes place in the midst of a record-breaking regular season seems fitting. The 2022-23 Bruins might end up shattering every regular-season mark Orr’s teams set, but if you want to really measure yourself among the greats, you need that Cup. There’s no questioning Patrice Bergeron’s standing among all-time Bruins greats, but he would take a gigantic step forward into rarified air if he were to match Orr with a second ring this spring.
Orr’s status as a benchmark extends beyond Causeway, of course. Two-thousand miles away, Cale Makar is authoring an early-career story, making him the latest “next Bobby Orr.” Maybe. He’s not the first to earn the comparison, and he won’t be the last. Orr is the greatest defenseman who ever played, and every legend who comes will be compared to him now and forever.
The accolades and praise for what Orr did as a hockey player and his lasting on-ice legacy certainly are justified, but there is part of you that doesn’t want it to completely overshadow who he is as a person, either. Those who meet him can only rave about the interaction. The quickest, most cursory Google search provides immediate, awe-inspiring kind gestures that aren’t often associated with someone who has enjoyed as much success in life and career as Orr.
“What strikes me most about Mr. Bobby Orr,” former Bruins captain and legend in his own right, Zdeno Chara, said in a 2018 Instagram post, “is that people refer to him as a gentleman — always polite, kind, humble and prepared to help when he can. Those are the true qualities of a man.”
If there was any sort of silver lining to come with the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, it’s that it gave us a chance to pause and reflect on things. For sports fans, the anguish of losing live sports at least provided an opportunity to look back on fond memories or discover new players and games that might have preceded us. For generations of New England sports fans who weren’t lucky enough to see Orr in his prime, the YouTube clips and decades-old replays at least gave you a better idea of just how special Orr was with a hockey stick in his hands and skates on his feet.
Somewhat fitting, Orr emerged from the shadows during that dark time to offer a simple act of kindness.
Orr, out of nowhere, wrote a letter to front-line workers at Mass. General Hospital.
“It strikes me that the word ‘hero’ is often used to describe athletes in our society, but in my eyes, YOU are the true heroes that I personally look up to and you are constantly on my mind,” he wrote.
This sentiment is not new for Orr; in fact, he was saying the same exact thing more than 50 years ago, in the midst of his prime as Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
“OK, I’m lucky, right? I’ve been gifted, right? But the world is full of people who have not been gifted,” he told SI’s Jack Olsen in 1970. Not only haven’t been gifted but have had things taken away from them. …
“All I have to do is see someone like that, and then I don’t think I’m such a big hero anymore.”
Those celebrating Orr’s 75th trip around the sun will probably beg to differ.