The Jaromir Jagr Ride
Looking at the coolest hockey player ever and his 1989 Skoda
Hi Sports Stories readers,
You may have noticed that for the first time since we became a “paid” publication, a Tuesday came and went without a newsletter landing in your inbox. I hope that none of our subscribers got too worried, or called the authorities, or anything like that. My brother Evan got married over the weekend, and I just didn’t have the time to publish something.
One thing about Evan is that he is a big hockey fan. He also still plays ice hockey as an adult, and despite being five years younger than me, has always kicked my ass in hockey video games. So this week we’re covering the coolest hockey player to ever live, Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr had such a long career in the NHL that I could appreciate him as an active player for different reasons as a child than I did as an adult. It began with the cool name, the cool hair, the blissful dominance in Pittsburgh. It ended in the place that certain veteran athletes get to where it’s not even about the sport anymore; it’s about the ritual. Jagr went from being a terrifying wild man to a sort of vagabond hockey spirit.
Here are two paragraphs from a New York Times story a few years back:
Over the last 25 years, Jagr has largely avoided the major injuries that can curtail or doom careers, his frame suited for maintaining productivity across different eras. He credits his durability, in part, to achieving a spiritual balance; he and Powers speak often about opening chakras. He draws energy not only from food and sleep, he said, but also from inner peace.
“Once you get too excited, too high, too low, it’s like a brake in your car,” Jagr said, adding: “You’re in traffic, you go fast, but you’re still going to brake when someone’s going to pass you. And you spend so much gas than the guys who are going slow.”
Anyway, it’s fitting that Jagr uses a driving metaphor, because we want to talk about his first car: a 1989 Skoda Favorit 136L that he purchased back in Czechoslovakia before being drafted by the Penguins.
At some point back in his home town of Kladno, Jagr purchased this Skoda. He also managed to put a large decal of a basketball player across the hood, and take some fairly ridiculous photos with the car. Last month, a small corner of the internet exploded into a debate over who exactly this basketball player was.
Click here for the actual photo. For some reason, Adam and I decided that this picture, this car, this debate over a basketball player on the hood decal sticker of a hockey player’s car felt like a Sports Story. We were convinced that it was Michael Jordan (the sleeve on the left knee gave it away), and with some internet sleuthing, we were able to confirm this fact. Jagr talked about it recently in what appears to be a piece of branded content for BMW and a Czech company called Invelt.
When he got to Pittsburgh, Jagr left the Skoda behind. Instead, he picked up a Pontiac Trans-Am and became semi-notorious for getting speeding tickets. Here’s a snippet from a 1992 profile in the Baltimore Sun:
"He doesn't really understand that there is a speed limit," Stevens said. "He's gotten a lot of tickets."
How many? No one is certain and Jagr isn't telling.
"Three in one week once," he said, smiling. "I've slowed down. Probably [the last ticket] came two months ago. The police know who I am, but they don't care."
Other facts from that story: Jagr loved Kit-Kat bars (fans used to mail them to him), video games, and watching Married With Children, which he said helped him learn English. Jagr obviously did a lot of growing up in the NHL. But throughout almost his entire career, he held onto one relic of his teenage years: the Skoda.
In 2015, Jagr finally put the car up for sale on eBay. The listing made clear that this was indeed Jagr’s first car, and that it still ran, even with upwards of 90,000 miles on it. According to one website, Jagr initially bought the Skoda for 85,000 Czech Korunas -- which at the time equaled about $3,500 USD.
There is no record of whether the car sold, or for how much, or of what happened to the Jordan decal. But if the Skoda runs anything like its owner, it’s probably doing fine. Jagr is back in Kladno, these days. He bought the pro hockey team he played for as a teenager, and at 49 years old, well, he is still playing for them.
Thanks for reading Sports Stories. We’ll see you next week. (On Tuesday!)