In terms of greatest hockey moments, in what was a prestigious hall of fame career full great moments, Phil Esposito lists December 3, 1987 as one of the top two of his career, alongside being a founder of the Tampa Bay Lightning. On that day, the Boston Bruins retired his No. 7 to the rafters honoring a storied career with the Black and Gold that was highlighted by two Stanley cups in 1970 and 72.
That was an immense honor, but it became even more unique when then Bruins defenseman and a future hall of famer as well, Ray Bourque, pulled of his No. 7 jersey, gave it to Esposito and donned what would become his trademark No. 77 that 14 years later would also hang high above the Boston Garden ice. Esposito was recently a guest with Jimmy Murphy on the latest Murphy’s Hockey Law Podcast and recalled how surprised and appreciative he was of the future Bruins captain’s amazing gesture.
“I’ll never forget ‘Bourkie’s’ words,” Esposito recalled. “I said ‘what are you doing?’ and he says ‘This is yours big fella! It always should’ve been yours; it never should’ve been anyone else’s!’ I’ll never forget that as long as I live. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my life.”
“I was asked ‘do you mind if we put your name on it and then when Ray retires, put his name,” Esposito recalled. “I said ‘certainly not, I don’t mind that at all. Absolutely, I wouldn’t mind that at all.’ And they said ‘OK, that’s what we’re probably going to do.’ So that’s why I was so surprised! I think it was Ray himself that brought it to Harry [Sinden] and the coach (Terry O’Reilly) and they were the only two who only knew outside of ‘Bourkie’.
Honestly, that is something that will go down in my mind as one of the greatest things to ever happen to me, having my number retired in the Boston Garden. Without a doubt, that and getting the hockey franchise set up in Tampa Bay, stand out more than anything else in my career.”
As Esposito stated in his speech on that memorable night 30 years ago, Boston and his time with the Bruins hold the top spot in his memory and heart.
“I had the greatest time of my life in hockey, in Boston,” Esposito said. “Without a doubt, it was the best. It was the greatest time, I was at the top of my game, we had the best players I ever played with and it was fun. We fought with each other; we drank together; we ate together; and we played for another with all the passion you could have. I love those guys! When you win a Stanley Cup like we did in ’70 and ’72, Freddy Shero said it to the Philadelphia Flyers in ’74, ‘You win this game and you walk together forever!’ and for me, that team from ’70, which was the first one, those guys, I’ll walk with them forever.”
Here’s the full interview with Murph and Espo: