It is often said that in sport, and I’m paraphrasing: The greatest competitors are the ones that have given blood, sweat, and tears for their clubs, pushed their teams to victory, challenge the boundaries of what we believe is humanly possible, but still carry a sense of dissatisfaction years after they retire. John Grant Jr. is one of those competitors.
“I spent my whole career losing to Toronto and Calgary with a couple of seasons in between where we lost one to Albany [Attack], one to Philadelphia [Wings], and one to Minnesota [Swarm]; It’s going to haunt me forever,” Grant painfully recalled. “The fact that I was never able to help the [Colorado] Mammoth win a playoff game, let alone a championship – that’s what I came here to do, to turn the franchise around and get them to the top of the heap – I just wasn’t able to do it.”
The Mammoth, their fans, Grant Jr.’s former teammates, and everyone in between view his career as an outstanding success, though, even in Colorado. On Saturday, despite not bringing a Champion’s Cup to the Mammoth organization, the Denver NLL franchise will retire Grant Jr.’s #24 jersey alongside Mammoth stars and NLL all-time greats Gary Gait, Gavin Prout, and Brian Langtry.
For nearly two decades, Grant Jr. personified greatness. The way he nimbly maneuvered around the turf even though he stood 6’2” tall and weighed in at around 220 pounds was incredible. Although it may be hard to imagine, he wasn’t always one of the larger men on the field.
“I was always the smallest kid on the team or close to it,” Grant Jr. said recounting his childhood playing days. “I would always be getting picked off the floor or carried off the floor… I was always playing against people who were older. Even in my early teens, I would be playing with the senior [Peterborough] Lakers guys at either our house or Jim Watson’s house or one of the other hall of famers houses playing backyard lacrosse… I remember that’s when I learned to play against kids who were bigger, stronger, faster and even adults. I always had a chip on my shoulder – kind of the small guy syndrome – trying to beat my dad and his friends at anything. Fortunately, I hit a growth spurt around 19 or 20 and went from being 5’6” to 6’2” and started putting weight on then. So everything I learned as a smaller player, the game just became easier when I was bigger.”
What magnified his greatness was his timelessness. Following ten seasons with the Rochester Knighthawks, Grant was traded to the Mammoth in 2011 at the age of 36 and would six seasons (and change) with the club like he was in his 20’s.
In his second season with the Mammoth, Grant Jr. tallied 116 points over 16 games earning him NLL Most Valuable Player honors. Playing until he was 42, Grant Jr. amassed 235 goals and 317 assists with the Mammoth. In just six playoff games, he shined just as bright scoring 13 goals and recording 16 assists in 6 games. Even more impressive, Grant Jr., by his account, was always playing through an injury while still posting ridiculous stats. “I don’t even remember a time when I wasn’t playing through pain,” he said.
His effort matched with his consistent jaw-dropping performances earned him the love of the Mammoth faithful and the respect of some of the greatest players to ever be part of the NLL. “John is one of the best offensive players ever, if not the greatest offensive player ever,” said the NLL’s all-time points leader John Tavares. “He has the greatest hands, the greatest shot, the greatest tricks shots. John was a very competitive guy and had a great career. Considering how many injuries he had through his career, it’s really impressive how good he was every game he played.”
Grant Jr.’s former teammates, Mike Accursi, shared similar sentiments about the dynamic scorer. “Junior was a magician with his stick,” Accursi said. “I’ve never seen a guy who could do what he did. Often we would sit back and watch and say, ‘Did he just do that?’ I have never seen, and probably will never see, a guy who could shoot, pass and take over a game as he could. His commitment to his skill set and passion that he had for the game of lacrosse made everyone around him better. Not only is he the best pure scorer I’ve ever seen, but he was also one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with; He truly is a legend in this sport.”
Had it not been for the mounting number of concussions Grant Jr. suffered, he might still be playing. Yet, he is extraordinarily grateful to have had the opportunity to play as long as he did, particularly for so many years with the Mammoth into his 40’s.
“[Steve Govett] took a chance on me when most people thought my career was over,” Grant Jr. said of the former Mammoth GM. “Now that I don’t play for him, we’ve become better friends, but he did a lot for me not just for playing professionally on the floor, but he talked with me a lot saying, ‘You’re not going to be able to play forever. You’ve got to start putting the pieces together for your next career.’ So he was hard on me that way kind of like a father figure. He really did help me grow up and establish myself. And, thankfully I did start to focus on off the field stuff. It definitely softened the blow to have something to lean on after I was knocked out of the game. If he didn’t take that chance on me back in 2011, I don’t know where I’d be or what would be happening in my life.”
Not only is Grant Jr. working now that he’s retired from playing, he says he is, “busier than I ever was when I was playing.” He currently is coaching the Valor Christian High School lacrosse team, he is the Offensive Coordinator/Assistant Coach for the Major League Lacrosse Denver Outlaws, and is the Co-Founder of Evolve Elite Lacrosse, not to mention he has tried out being a sideline commentator for the Mammoth this season.
As a legend in the organization and as someone who loves the city of Denver and its lacrosse fans, it would be no surprise if he were to take on a more committed role with the team in the future. “I grew up with Dan [Carey], and we’re really close, and I told him, ‘If you ever need anything, I’m here to help.’ … Would I want to be part of the Mammoth down the road? I’ll never say never.”
Even though Grant Jr.’s jersey retirement brings his Mammoth career to a close, for now, he is appreciative to have had the chance to be part of the franchise. “I’m extremely blessed to have played for as long as I did. To have played with and against my idols and then to be coached by guys that I played with… it’s been such an amazing ride. But, now it’s over, and the ride is taking a different road. My career is on the other side of the whistle as I like to say.”