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Bobby Orr opens up on giving and living

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(Boston Globe) Legendary Bruins star Bobby Orr, now 65, reflects on life on and off the ice. By Scott LaPierre

It’s mid-morning in Bobby Orr’s kitchen on Cape Cod, and the phone is ringing again. A friend is calling for a favor, angling for another piece of the legend.

The voice booms from the answering machine. Can Bobby attend a golf tournament?

Orr smiles wistfully. He has spent his adult life fielding requests for his time.

“It’s nonstop,’’ he says.

Can Orr, arguably the greatest hockey player of all time, attend a charity event? Sign a photograph? Visit a hospital?

The Hall of Famer says he will do everything he can, but he is also a husband, a father, a grandfather, a businessman, and now, at 65, an author.


He has lessons to share. His autobiography, “Orr: My Story,’’ is due out next month, and he is getting a jump on a North American publicity tour with a Globe interview.

In a 30-minute conversation, Orr reflects on a range of issues, from the agent who betrayed him to his fear of public speaking to the best hockey players of all time.

Most important to Orr, his book sounds an alarm over what he considers “the decaying values in youth sports.’’ He sees many coaches and parents so obsessed with winning that they are stifling joy and creativity, possibly preventing the next Bobby Orr from emerging.

Q. You say in the book that you began to understand the importance of giving back when you visited the Toronto Maple Leafs as a kid.

Bobby Orr was a prolific scorer, but some of his most meaningful assists have come off the ice.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

A. I think it starts long before that: the way you’re brought up, the values that your parents teach. We’re professional athletes. People know who we are, and if there’s some way we can help with a friend or someone in need, that’s a responsibility we have. I really strongly believe that. Years ago, there was a commercial with a professional athlete [Charles Barkley] who said, “I’m not a role model.’’ Well, we are. Once you turn pro and you’re making the big money and kids are buying your sneakers and your skates and your gloves and so on, you are a member of that role model club. If there is any way you can help a friend or someone in need, what does it take? It doesn’t take much time. That’s something we all should do.


Q. Why do you hate people talking about the good work you have done behind the scenes?

A. I don’t do things to get ink. I don’t care to have cameras around when I’m doing those things. Sometimes it happens, but that’s not why I’m doing it. If you’re going to help somebody, sneak in, sneak out, do what you can. I just sneak along and do my thing and meet wonderful people, some people I’ve never met, new friends.

Q. Derek Sanderson joined you at hospitals visiting kids, but he found it too depressing. He said it inspires you. How?

A. If you look at some of these children, some of these people in need . . . we have no reason to complain. When I go see a kid, in many cases they have no idea who I am or what I did, but before I leave there, hopefully I have a new friend. That’s the goal: to have a nice time and make a new friend.

Q. And that enriches you somehow.


A. What right do I have to complain? What right do you have to complain when you see the problems somebody has?

Q. How hard was it writing the book when you hate talking about yourself?

A. It was hard for me. It’s not a book all about the games and the goals. I didn’t want that. It took me a long time to decide to do a book because I couldn’t get it in my thick skull that people would read it and get something from it. Whether you’re a parent with a kid in hockey or a kid whose goal is to be an NHL player, or whether you’re a pro with an agent, hopefully everyone who reads it will get something from it. I write about people who helped me along the way, and I’m suggesting to the kids that they remember the sacrifices their brothers and sisters and parents have made so they can realize their dream.

Q. Much of the book is about you sharing the lessons you have learned in hockey and life. What kind of impact do you hope to make?

A. In minor [youth] sports, there are some good apples in that barrel. But there are some people who are involved who shouldn’t be working with our kids. The first questions they should be asked are, “Why are you involved? Why are you coaching? Why do you have your kid playing?’’ Minor sports in the community is fun and recreation for everyone, not just the elite. I think back to my days in minor hockey and those are my fondest memories, having fun. My father never put any pressure on me. People would come up to my father and say, “Your kid is going to be a pro,’’ and my dad would come to me and say, “Go out there and have fun and see what happens.’’ If kids are having fun, they will listen. If they are listening, there is so much you can teach them. They think whatever the coach says must be right. That’s a very important position. So act properly, be a good person, teach the fundamentals of the game, but teach values.


Q. You talk about how much hockey has changed, how we have a more rigid system that can stifle innovation and possibly discourage the next Bobby Orr. Shouldn’t that open some eyes?

A. I would think so. When you have a young defenseman that can skate like heck and you say, “Don’t skate over center ice, shoot it up the glass,’’ [the coach should] let the kids play. I think teaching the traps and all the rest at a young age is outrageous. We’ve got to let our kids play, let them have fun. In many cases, that’s not happening.

Q. You talk in the book about one hockey parent murdering another in Massachusetts, and didn’t you recently rush on the ice in Toronto to break up a brawl in a youth game?

A. I didn’t go on the ice, but I was sitting with my partner and said, “Something is going to happen here.’’ The parents and coaches were going at it. That’s outrageous. Think about it. These are our children’s games. We’re the adults. We’re the ones that are supposed to be setting the good example, and they’re acting like damn fools. Some coaches act as if the mortgage were at stake if their Pee Wee team doesn’t win a game, which is outrageous. I guarantee, if your kid’s got it, he’ll get a chance. And I’ll guarantee another thing. If you’re abusing that kid mentally, screaming and yelling at him if he makes a mistake, the kid is going to walk away. He’s going to leave the game. I don’t ever remember a minor hockey coach screaming and yelling and being unreasonable with me, ever. My father, never. People say to me, “What was the reason for the success I had?’’ I had a love and passion for the game that was never taken out of me. I couldn’t wait to get on the ice. I couldn’t wait to get a stick in my hand, whether it was shooting in the garage or playing in the parking lot or playing at the school rink or playing on the river or the bay. I went very young [age 14] to play junior hockey. The coaches were owned by the Bruins and they continued to let me play my way. I went to the Bruins and they continued to let me play my way, the way I always played, because they thought that was most effective. That was huge for me.


Q. A couple of [Alan] Eagleson questions. You say his betrayal of you changed the way you look at people, even those close to you. How difficult has that been?

A. It was difficult. When you have someone you trust with your life, with everything, and he betrays you . . . [pause]. There are some people out there that defend this guy, but don’t forget, he’s a convicted felon, he was stripped of his Order of Canada, he’s out of the Hall of Fame, and on and on and on. He’s not a nice person. He hurt a lot of people along the way. In the end, I just wanted to get away from him. I didn’t want to be around him. I didn’t have a whole lot [financially]. I couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer to go after him. It was difficult, but after I left him, I had to get back to work. I had a lot of wonderful people help me and things have worked out well.

Q. So in terms of the lingering effects, being more guarded . . .

A. I probably follow things closer today than I did then. I think that’s the big thing. And I say to the kids, “It’s your money. You’ve earned it. Ask questions.’’ A number of people tried to talk me out of this guy [Eagleson]. I was, “Hey, he’s my friend, leave me alone.’’ I might be a little stubborn. I pay more attention to things now than I did back then. I let Al do everything.

Q. I take it that if you saw Eagleson today, you would turn and walk away.

A. What are you going to do? Life is good. [I would say] see you later. I’m probably having more fun than he is.

Q. How difficult was it for you to put on that Blackhawks sweater the first time after you left Boston?

A. I love the Bruins. It was hard. I did something that, if I had paid more attention to what was going on, I wouldn’t have been there. But it happened. It was difficult, but this was what I was led to believe was the best deal. But as soon as I finished in Chicago, our first move was back to Boston. This is where we wanted to live, with our friends.

Q. Did you get a sense for how painful it was for Bruins fans to see you there?

A. Yeah, they are very supportive. It’s great. They’ve been so good to me and continue to be so nice to me.

Q. You say in the book that Gordie Howe is the greatest of all.

A. Without question.

Q. Who’s second?

A. Well, you have Wayne [Gretzky] and Sid [Crosby] and so many other great players. Mario [Lemieux]. Those guys are the top of the class. But Gordie, he had [27] straight seasons with more than 20 goals. Give me a team of Gordies and see what happens. And, he’s a wonderful man. One of his best lines, I asked him one time, “Why do you do these things?’’ [Howe was a notoriously physical player.] And he said, “I’m very religious. It’s better to give than to receive.’’

Q. The very first NHL game you played, he gave you some.

A. Oh, did he give it to me.

Q. You mention in the book an incident at a Boston hotel after Toronto’s Pat Quinn delivered a dirty hit that sent you to the hospital with a concussion. You describe a man who seemed like an underworld figure approaching you and saying in a very low voice, “Do you want me to take care of Pat Quinn?’’ In a strange way, did that tell you how beloved you were in Boston?

A. Actually, I was frightened when he came up to me. I said, “No, sir, I’ll take care of him myself.’’ [Orr later pummeled Quinn on the ice.] But I was frightened. Again, loyal friends.

Q. You talk about your fear of speaking before large crowds. Is that partly why you have declined many honors?

A. That’s probably part of the reason. I hate a microphone and a podium. I’ve always been like that. It’s not my happiest moment when I have to do that. All the people who have given me honors in the past, I appreciate it, I really do, but it’s just not my thing.

Q. How would you like to be remembered?

A. On the hockey side, I hope I’m remembered as a guy who went out and did his job every night. I think that’s important, that whatever you do, you do your job and do it right. There was a level I was expected to play at, and I obviously had some bad nights and made mistakes, but I hope I had more better nights than poor nights. As a person, I hope I’m looked at as someone who gets it, understands my responsibilities as a professional athlete on and off the ice. There’s much we can do to help those less fortunate.