-- As soon as they got to know Adam Graves
well enough, his former Rangers' teammates used to tell themselves that nobody could be this nice, this sincere. Not forever anyway.
"We used to joke about it," Mark Messier
said. "You just can't sustain this."
One day after a hard practice in the middle of the season, Messier thought he figured out how 'Gravy' did it.
"One day coming into the room, Mark looks above Adam's stall and there was a huge box addressed to Adam Graves
. It was all bound up and it looked very official," Mike Richter
said. "Mark, who hadn't said anything all day, says, 'That's how Adam does it. He gets a box of nice delivered every morning.' "
No cap, he didn't. Graves has never needed any performance-enhancer when it comes to the sincerity department. He has always had a knack for making the person he's talking to feel as if they are the only one who has ever mattered to him, and this is a guy with a close-knit family, including a wife and three kids to call his own.
Tuesday night, when the Rangers honor Graves by raising his No. 9 to the Madison Square Garden rafters, he'll have a chance to talk to every Ranger fan and teammate he ever touched and tell them exactly how he feels about them and why he is who he is.
Graves will be the fourth member of the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team to have his number retired. His No. 9 will join Richter's No. 35, Messier's No. 11 and Brian Leetch
's No. 2.
"I understand how lucky and fortunate I am," Graves said Monday. "I didn't realize what goes through your heart and mind leading up to this. This has been a hard time for me as far as feeling very humble. I honestly just feel so privileged."
Ask anybody around the Rangers -- or in hockey -- and they'll tell you the same thing: Nobody deserves this honor more.
The beauty of it is Graves isn't getting it just for the player he was and the stats he put up -- 308 goals and 243 assists in 840 total games with the Rangers, including the postseason -- but for the person he has always been.
Few come wrapped in a better package.
"A lot of times you read the papers about events like this and everyone does their best to write what kind of person that is not just statistics they achieved," said Brian Leetch
, whose No. 2 went up to the Garden rafters last year. "In Adam's case, everyone already understands that. That's the unique part. Everyone will be celebrating Adam as a player with the Cup and scoring 50 goals and cuts on his face and fights and what not, but also as a man and what he means to the community."
More than any goal he may have scored -- and he had 52 of them during the Rangers' historic 1993-94 season -- Graves is defined by his compassion and sincerity. He is arguably the most beloved Ranger of all time.
Leetch called him the Rangers' foundation, "kind of our heart and soul," during his decade as a player for the organization from 1992-2002. Richter said Graves is "one of the best guys you could come across in all of sports." Messier said he was "a captain's dream come true as a lieutenant."
"If you went through every guy on the team each year, if you asked them who their best friend was, they'd all say Gravy," said Leetch.
Graves' sincerity spreads far off the ice, too.
Since signing with the Rangers prior to the 1991-92 season, he has been a key player within the tri-state area community. He is still tireless in working with less-fortunate kids through the Garden of Dreams Foundation, a non-profit charity that works closely with all areas of Madison Square Garden "to make dreams come true for kids in crisis."
"The Rangers have been great for all of us in facilitating those events, but Adam does it on his own," Richter said. "He can find a stray dog and take it under his wing."
"I have three kids, 13, 9 and 8 years old, and there is not a greater joy for me than seeing my kids smile," Graves said. "It should be no different for any other kid."
To Graves, putting a smile on a kid's face is equivalent to scoring a goal. They're both just so fun to do. It's why nowadays he calls himself a kid who is just having fun with other kids. It's never been a chore for him to do work in the community.
Perhaps more than anything that is what makes Tuesday night's ceremony so unique and the ovation Graves will receive so special. The fans standing in his honor Tuesday night will all feel as though they know him because, as Richter said, "I think he's met every one of them. I think they had a sleepover with him once."
"It's just so genuine," Messier said. "He has a lot of compassion, and that's always a testament to anybody's character. He's got a lot of compassion for everybody, for children and people in general. Because of it, it allows him to spend time with people and not feel obligated that he has to do it. It's just who he is as a person."
Graves said he gets his sincerity from his late father, Henry, who he called an old-school dad, a policeman who patrolled Toronto's tough neighborhoods. Graves' parents didn't just have him and his two older sisters, Richenda and Lynette. They also adopted Mark, his younger brother, and were foster parents to more than three dozen children.
It's no wonder his life's goal is to put a smile on as many kids' faces as possible.
"I was lucky. The person that I admired most in this world was my father," Graves said. "When I make decisions to do things, I think about what he would have thought."
Graves said Tuesday night's ceremony is, to him at least, a tribute to his father, who passed away from cancer some 10 years ago. So, when asked if he'll look north to the Garden rafters to see his name every time he enters the arena, Graves, looking as humble as ever, admitted he doesn't think along those lines.
"For me, it's about walking in with my kids and having them have the good fortune of looking up and seeing my dad's name up there," Graves said. "That's the part that, for me, is hard to get my head around. That's not me saying what I'm supposed to be saying. That's how I really feel."
He's not lying. He's that sincere and that honest.
He always has been.
"That's what separates Adam from many athletes that played in any sport in any town," Messier said. "It's not phony or premeditated or contrived. He really is the guy that we see."
No box of nice needed.
Contact Dan Rosen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.