Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguin and hockey icon, is one of 14 highlighted Pittsburgh athletes as part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series showcasing stories as inspirational as they are amazing. Designed in collaboration with artist Gavin Benjamin, find all sports profiles windows currently on view in windows around the neighborhood.
He has excelled at every level of the game, evidenced by his immediate induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame upon retirement in 1997. He has achieved in all arenas – on the ice, in the front office, and in the community. He has overcome great obstacles – injuries, illnesses, the near insolvency of his club. He has ensured that professional hockey stayed in this city and built a new home for the Penguins. And he has become a Pittsburgher, raising his family here and working to better his community. It is no wonder that Mario Lemieux is known as, “Le Magnifique,” the magnificent.
On June 9, 1984, hockey in Pittsburgh forever changed when the Penguins’ used the No. 1 pick in the draft to take Mario Lemieux. At 6’4” and 200 lbs., Lemieux blended size, skill, and the promise of his name – which in French, means “the best.” Lemieux, who had generated a record setting 282 points for Laval the previous season, received the largest rookie contract to date, two years for $600,000 plus a $150,000 signing bonus. He produced immediately, scoring on his first shot in his first shift in a game against the Bruins on October 11, 1984, enroute to 100 points for the season. This earned Lemieux the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. He also took MVP honors at the All-Star game, the first rookie to do so.
Following hockey tradition, captain Mario Lemieux became the first Pittsburgh Penguin to celebrate a team championship when he hoisted the Stanley Cup overhead and took it for a lap around the rink in 1991. The Pens defeated the Minnesota North Stars 8 to 0 in Game 6, to win the Cup for the first time. Lemieux, who had missed the first 50 games of the season due to back surgery, was a major force in the playoffs. He racked up 44 points in 23 playoff games, scoring 16 goals and adding 28 assists, to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player.
This became the first of five championships that Lemieux contributed to. One of the all-time greats, from the time he first stepped on the ice for the Penguins in 1984, until his second and final retirement in 2006, Lemieux contributed at the highest level. Though he battled health problems and overcame cancer, he still notched 690 goals and 1033 assists in 915 regular season games. He played a role in each of the five Stanley Cups, Lemieux led the on-ice efforts for the first two in 1991 and 1992, he contributed as team owner and chairman for the most recent three in 2009, 2016. and 2017. His career highlights also include Canada and World Cup championships and Olympic gold won in 2002.
Lemieux retired from hockey after the 1996-97 season. But when the team faced a crippling burden of debt and was put up for sale in 1999, Mario Lemieux took the $20 million owed him by the team, added $5 million of his own, and ended up with a 35% stake in the Penguins. He put together a new ownership group to purchase the team, keeping them in Pittsburgh. Promises that city and county governments would assist in finding the finances to build a new arena contributed to Lemieux’s interest in owning the team.
Missing the game, Lemieux returned to the ice on December 27, 2000. Before a sellout crowd at Mellon Arena, he scored his first point 33 seconds into the game, assisting on a Jaromir Jagr goal. Midway through the second period, he notched his first goal and only a few minutes later, added his second assist. He finished the night with three points and only three nights later, against the Ottawa Senators, scored a goal and recorded three assists. Player/owner Lemieux became only the third Hall of Famer to play professional hockey, joining Gordie Howe and Guy Lafleur. He retired for the second and final time on January 24, 2006. a few people are known by just their first name, but Mario’s contributions on ice, in the front office, and to the community continue to resonate with fans around the world.
Learn more about the history of hockey in Pittsburgh from the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center.
This spotlight is a part of the Downtown Renown: Pittsburgh Sports Greats series. Learn more about the project, and look for all 14 sports profile windows in Downtown!
Arnold Palmer • Bill Mazeroski • Charles “Chuck” Cooper • Dan McCoy • Franco Harris • Honus Wagner • Joe Greene • John Woodruff • Josh Gibson • Mario Lemieux • Roberto Clemente • Suzie McConnell-Serio • Swin Cash • Sidney Crosby
📍 View this Pittsburgh Sports Great window installation at Piatt Place, 301 Fifth Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh.