Current and former NHL players and coaches as well as fans in Canada, the United States and around the world took the occasion to gush fond remembrances of Gretzky's remarkable career, which ended in 1999 with the New York Rangers.
During that time, "the Great One" redefined the game's standards of offense and set many scoring records that seem likely never to be eclipsed, such as his 894 goals and 1,963 assists over a 20-year span.
But in an interview with the NHL Network Wednesday, Gretzky said his 50th birthday would be a pretty tame affair.
"It's actually going to be pretty quiet," Gretzky said. "We made a decision -- a conscious decision -- that we're going to keep it pretty low key," adding he planned to attend a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game.
"To me, no disrespect because it is a great day and it is another birthday -- I feel good at the age of 50 and life goes on," he said.