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Big Lax Attack

The arrival of lacrosse legend Gary Gait could make the sport Mammoth in Colorado.

Indeed, two years ago, lacrosse seemed sufficiently popular that a second, outdoor league, Major League Lacrosse, was started. Only a handful of stars play year-round. Naturally, Gary has been one of them. And naturally, the two teams he has played for in each year of the outdoor league's existence have won titles.

Gait has been called the Michael Jordan of his sport, yet the comparison is too generous to His Airness -- by a long shot. What Jordan did on the court was simply a superior version of what everyone else was doing. Gait, by comparison, was playing a different game than his contemporaries and so changed it in the process.

"There weren't kids out there doing fancy trick shots for fun," he says. "To use a basketball analogy, they were shooting free throws. We just brought some creativity into it and showed that you could actually do that sort of thing during a game." Today, everyone is playing -- or trying to play -- lacrosse as it is practiced by the Gait brothers.

Gait is also the rare athlete whose impact on his sport goes well beyond what he has accomplished on the field. In fact, he probably has influenced the modern game more than any other person has managed to influence his or her sport of choice, Jordan included.

As youngsters, he and Paul would steam their wooden sticks and bend the shafts slightly -- a trick they imported to Syracuse. The design allowed the ball to be thrown so much harder that the NCAA eventually banned it (the second rule change the brothers inspired). But it has become common among professionals. Recently, Gary, who also works for the sport's main equipment manufacturer, SDX, invented an adjustable helmet that will be used exclusively in the professional league next year.

Also unlike Jordan, Gait has actually gotten out into the world and convinced kids to play lacrosse, and not just as a distant role model or shoe salesman. Last year, one of his other companies, SDX Lacrosse Camps, held sixty clinics around the country for young players. Sure, it's self-interest; it's part of how he manages to make a living at lacrosse. Yet his willingness to spread the word personally has given the sport an immeasurable boost.

Nor has Jordan approached Gait's accomplishments as an owner -- or player/coach, or simply coach, either. In 1993, Gary was hired as an assistant coach for the University of Maryland women's lacrosse team -- which, by the time he quit last year, had won seven national championships.

Last year, he acted as both offensive coordinator and star player for the outdoor-league Baltimore Bayhawks. That team, you will not be surprised to learn, won the Major League Lacrosse title this fall. The team he partly owned, as well as played on most recently, the Washington Power, made it to the semi-finals the last two seasons.

All this is of interest to Denver because this past summer, Gary Gait and the other owners sold the Washington Power to Kroenke Sports, owners of the Avalanche, the Nuggets and the Pepsi Center. Now installed in Denver, Gait's team is known as the Mammoth.

The team begins its season on January 3. In the past, Coloradans have always appreciated a good athlete. They'd be foolish to miss a great one now.

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