Chris Chelios: The Ideal Team Player

Patrick Lencioni defines The Ideal Team Player as someone who is humble, hungry, and smart. They possess the kind of humility that values others before themselves. They have a relentless work ethic. And they are emotionally intelligent, as they know how to prop others up and give credit where credit is due. 

I couldn’t help but think of these attributes when I attended Chris Chelios’ jersey retirement ceremony at the February 25th Chicago Blackhawks game. Chelios, one of the best U.S.-born hockey players of all time, played for my beloved Blackhawks from 1990 to 1999. These were the years when I fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. His hard-working demeanor was something I identified with. His willingness to get down and dirty (much like Chicago Bulls’ Dennis Rodman) motivated me to dive for every loose ball while playing basketball in the 1990s. Hockey would have been an option for me if I could skate. I couldn’t, so I settled for teeing it high and aggressively trying to hit golf balls 300+ yards. 

I didn’t know then, however, that the moment I most admired Chris Chelios was still to come. His 30-plus-minute speech at his retirement ceremony taught me so much that I had to write a blog post about it. And to take it in with my 10-year-old son, Ben, was something I will never forget.  


Throughout the night, there were countless examples of Chelios’ humility. For starters,  Chris included a guy at the ceremony that no one in the United Center had ever heard of. Bobby Parker was a youth hockey teammate of Chelios’s, and after the Chelios family moved to San Diego, Parker made the call that changed Chelios’s life. Because of that call, Chelios ensured Parker was center stage at the retirement ceremony 40-plus years later. 

Furthermore, after being referred to as the “greatest American-born hockey player of all time” by the emcee Pat Foley, Chelios shifted the attention to Patrick Kane. Kane, another favorite all-time Chicago Blackhawk of mine, now plays for the Detroit Red Wings. Naturally, the game was against the Red Wings because Chelios also played there after his time with the Blackhawks. So when Chelios called to Kane, the spotlight literally shifted to Patrick Kane sitting on the Detroit Red Wings bench. With the spotlight shining on Kane, Chelios said, “Patrick, you are the greatest American-born hockey player of all time.” 

There was nothing planned or staged about this statement. Kane didn’t know Chelios was going to say anything. In fact, Kane didn’t do a pre-game media event because he didn’t want to detract from Chelios’ big night — even though it was Kane’s first trip back to the United Center as an opposing player. 

It was a beautiful exchange of humility or thinking more about others than yourself.  


I don’t need to belabor this point because you don’t get to a jersey retirement ceremony without a ridiculous amount of hunger. But two things stood out to me. First, while listening to former teammates describe Chelios’ work ethic, they all said the same thing: “He outworked us.” More so, several who played against him at some point in their careers said that was extremely difficult. “Everything hurt,” former Blackhawk Jeremy Roenick said. 

Chelios commented about going to the arena during the height of the success of the 1990 Chicago Bulls and observing how hard Michael Jordan worked. “MJ had a trainer and was in top condition. So I went and got a trainer and started working hard. This is what allowed me to play in the NHL until I was 48 years old.” 

That’s the definition of hunger.  


Of all the things about the night, however, the most impressive was the relational reach of Chris Chelios. At this event, there were people from all walks of life, from all over the country. Celebrities, former athletes, and even rock stars like my son, Ben, and Kid Rock. The only plausible reason all these people came to an arena on a February afternoon in Chicago was that Chris Chelios had touched their lives in some way. He was someone they followed because he treated them well.  

But the smartest thing he did was putting his family before the celebrities, former athletes, and even the rock stars. He rode out to the ceremony with his mother, called his wife up to the podium to be center stage, and raised the banner with his family. This is true leadership.  

As Ben and I drove home that night — after Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal for the Detroit Red Wings, no less — I asked him what his favorite moment of the night was. 

“Without question, Chelios’ speech.” 

 Mine too. 

What a moment that we will never forget!