Hall of Fame Inductee: Gary Gait
By Chris Rosenthall | Feb 15, 2022
Shortly after she bought me my first lacrosse stick, I handed my mother a camera and asked her to take my picture in front of our house. At the bottom of our driveway, sporting denim shorts and a cartoonishly oversized smile, I proudly presented my traditionally-strung STX Hi-Wall, and while I had no idea how or why, I somehow knew that this game I’d recently discovered would mean a great deal in the years to come. After I gave a standard lacrosse pose (head of the stick next to my ear and ready to catch a hypothetical pass), I posed for a few more photos, in which I demonstrated the behind-the-back shot, the “around the world,” and lastly, the between-the-legs-in-the-most-uncomfortable-way-imaginable shot known as the “back breaker” - all pages I’d taken directly from Gary Gait’s catalog. No, not his figurative catalog, I’d been copying his literal one, as those moves were featured in the catalog for GB Lax, the Syracuse-based equipment retailer founded by Gary and twin brother Paul. Like a kid expecting to dunk once he purchased the latest basketball shoes, I simply had to buy my next stick straight from the legend himself, and after fixing the one thing obviously holding me back, was officially on my way to becoming the next Gary Gait.
Why did I want those photos? Well, it’s been a while, but the working theory is that I believed at some point in the near future, the TV crew profiling me would want them as prologue for the story of how I broke all of Gary Gait’s records. They’d visit my childhood home, see Gary and Paul’s poster on my bedroom wall, spot their instructional video atop my VCR, and would completely understand why, as far as style, ability and accomplishments were concerned, we were practically triplets.
Unfortunately, my quest for Gait-level greatness ultimately fell a bit short, but to be fair, some would argue that literally everyone else’s did as well. When it comes to lacrosse, Gary Gait established the bar, then proceeded to raise it every step of the way. Gait resides at the intersecting peaks of production and creativity, an icon, innovator and blueprint all in one. He’s your favorite player’s favorite player’s favorite player, and no matter who’s having the conversation, his is the name mentioned in every discussion regarding the best to ever hold a stick.
He’s been often called the Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan of lacrosse, but let’s be honest here, the direct comparisons are a disservice to Gait and his legacy - he’s not a GOAT, he’s a one-man Mount Rushmore of GOATs.
The Jordan reference certainly tracks (i.e., virtually unstoppable scoring machine complete with signature dunk and ability to offensively turn absolutely nothing into something we’ve never seen), but he’s actually a bit more Bill Russell - dominating, highly decorated champion at all levels and job titles in and around the game. While Russell remarkably won a pair of championships while serving as both player and head coach for the Boston Celtics, Gait did the same as player/coach for the Baltimore Bayhawks, a title he held from 2002-2005.
Then again, he’s also part Wayne Gretzky, another Canadian prodigy who traveled to the States and launched his sport to unprecedented popularity. Just like Gretzky, who led the NHL in assists for two of his final three seasons before retiring at 38, Gait led the MLL in both goals and points in his final complete season, also stepping away at 38 with plenty left in the tank.
The Babe Ruth comparisons make sense as well, in that both brought an element of superhero mystique to their professions, but are you certain you could take Ruth in his prime, drop him into Major League Baseball right this second and watch him knock today’s pitchers out the park just the same? However much you believe that Babe Ruth’s excellence would directly transfer to modern times, you’ve got to be at least ten times more confident running a prime Gary Gait alongside the PLL’s finest. Oh, I'm sorry - was Gary Gait not big, strong or fast enough? What is it then, his stick skills? Think Gary Gait’s stick skills wouldn’t cut it? Well now you’re just being foolish.
Gary Gait’s MLL career may have lasted fewer than 70 games, but to fully appreciate his contributions to professional lacrosse, as well as his excellence in the field, it’s important to remember that his record-setting collegiate career came to an end more than ten years prior to the MLL’s inaugural season. By the time the league officially began in 2001, Gait was 34 years old, not only playing two-way midfield during the game’s pre-LSM days, but covering opponents who had been studying him since they were in elementary school. In 2001, Gait scored 38 points (30G, 8A, 33GB) and led the Long Island Lizards to victory in the MLL’s first championship game, defeating the Baltimore Bayhawks, 15-11. Gait joined the Bayhawks the following season as the aforementioned player/coach, and proceeded to lead his new team to a 21-13 championship victory over the Lizards. That’s right - Gary Gait won the first MLL championship, grabbed the reins of the very team he beat, and won the second one as well.
The 2005 season marked Gary Gait’s final complete campaign, and by its conclusion, he had become the league’s first three-time champion. In addition to a five-goal semi final and six-goal encore that earned him Championship MVP honors, Gait tallied a league-leading 43 goals and 64 points during the regular season on his way to being named league Co-MVP. Gait’s 2005 Bayhawks team is widely considered one of the greatest professional squads ever assembled, and in a 2008 Inside Lacrosse interview, Mike Powell, who joined Gait and Tom Marachek on its legendary attack line, illustrated his lasting impact accordingly:
“To be honest with you, if Gary Gait wasn’t around, I don’t know if I would’ve played lacrosse,” said Powell. “If Gary didn’t show me that you can change the game, you can do your own things… nothing’s set in stone, I’m not sure what would’ve separated lacrosse from all the other major sports to me. I chose lacrosse because I saw Gary doing those things. And then however many years later, I saw Casey [Powell] doing those things, and Ryan [Powell] doing those things, and before you knew it, I was there, and I was able to try and do some of the things that these guys had done…There’s a lot of players out there that are in the same boat as me that would say the same exact thing - that Gary started a revolution of the sport, and that’s why he’s the best.”