In his 23 years in the National Hockey League (NHL) and World Hockey Association (WHA), Hull played for the Chicago Black Hawks, Winnipeg Jets, and Hartford Whalers. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player twice and the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading point scorer three times, while helping the Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup in 1961 and leading the WHA's Winnipeg Jets to Avco Cup championships in 1976 and 1978. He led the NHL in goals seven times, the most of any player in history, and led the WHA in goals one additional time. He was also voted the WHA's most valuable player two times. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. On January 27, 2017, in a ceremony during the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, Hull was part of the second group of players to be named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history.
Hull was born in Pointe Anne (now part of Belleville), Ontario. He played his minor hockey in Belleville, and then Jr. "B" hockey for the Woodstock Warriors in the fall of 1954. Although the Sarnia Legionnaires and the Waterloo Siskins were the Jr. "B" powerhouses of the 1950s, Hull threw a wrench into their domination, leading the Warriors to the 1955 Sutherland Cup as all-Ontario champions. Later, he played for the Galt Black Hawks and the St. Catharines Teepees in the Ontario Hockey Association, before joining the Chicago Black Hawks in 1957 at the age of 18.
Hull quickly blossomed into a star, finishing second in the rookie of the year balloting his first season. Hull originally wore numbers 16 and 7 as a Black Hawk but later switched to his famous number 9, a tribute to his childhood idol Gordie Howe. By his third season (1959–60), he led the league in goal- and point-scoring (the Art Ross Trophy), a feat which he also achieved in 1961-62 and 1965-66. He went on to lead the Chicago Black Hawks to the Stanley Cup in 1961—their third overall and first in 23 years. He finished second in point-scoring three further times.
On March 12, 1966, he became the first NHL player to score more than 50 goals in a season, surpassing Maurice Richard's and Bernie Geoffrion's hallowed mark of 50 goals. His 51st goal against the New York Rangers earned him a seven-minute standing ovation from the Chicago Stadium faithful. Hull eventually scored 54 goals that season, the highest single season total of the Original Six era. That same year, Hull set the record for the most points in a season with 97, one more than the previous record set by Dickie Moore 7 years earlier. His point total was tied the next year by team-mate Stan Mikita and their record was broken three years later by Phil Esposito. Hull led the league in goal scoring seven times during the 1960s. Despite Hull breaking his own goals in a season record by four goals in 1968–69 (netting 58) and setting a career NHL high of 107 points (second in the league that year), the Hawks missed the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season that year. By his final NHL season, he had scored 50 goals or more a remarkable five times. This was only one time less than all other players in NHL history combined up until that point in time.
In his 15 full NHL seasons he was voted the First-Team All-Star left winger ten times and the Second-Team All-Star left winger twice.
His slapshot was once clocked at 118.3 mph (190.5 km/h) and he could skate 29.7 mph (47.8 km/h). During his drive to be the first to eclipse the 50 goal mark, Hull's wrist shot was claimed to be harder than his slapshot.
Long unhappy because of his relatively poor salary in the period when he was hockey's preeminent superstar, Hull responded to overtures from the upstart World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets in 1972 by jesting that he would jump to them for a million dollars, a sum then considered absurd. Gathering the other league owners together to contribute to the unprecedented amount on the grounds that inking such a major star gave instant credibility to the new rival league that was competing directly against the entrenched NHL, Jets' owner Ben Hatskin agreed to the sum, and signed Hull as a player/coach for a contract worth $1.75 million over 10 years plus a $1 million signing bonus. Although his debut with Winnipeg was held up in litigation by the NHL, Hull instantly became the WHA's greatest star winning the Gordie Howe Trophy as league MVP in 1972-73 and 1974-75. With Swedish linemates Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson he formed one of the most formidable forward lines of the 1970s (known as "The Hot Line"), leading the Jets to two AVCO Cups during his time with the club. His best performance was during the 1974-75 season, when he scored 77 goals to set a new professional mark, while adding 65 assists for a total of 142 points, 5 behind the league leader. In the five WHA seasons in which he played more than half the schedule, he was voted a First-Team All-Star thrice and a Second-Team All-Star twice, while scoring 50 goals in a year four times and getting 100 points four times.
Because he joined the rival league, Hull was not allowed to represent Team Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, which pitted Canada's top NHL players against the USSR's national team. Two years later, a second Summit Series was played and Hull joined many WHA stars (including Gordie Howe, who had been retired from the NHL at the time of the initial Summit Series) in a second series against the Soviet national team. The WHA lost the series four games to one (three ending in a tie), despite Hull's seven goals. He was a key member of the Canadian squad that won the 1976 Canada Cup, though, scoring five goals in seven games.
Hull and teammate Stan Mikita were catalysts for a 1960s craze where players curved the blades of their hockey sticks, which became widely referred to as "banana blades". Hull is the player typically linked most to the rule that banned this practice because of the potential danger to goalies, who did not wear masks in that era. The curved blade made the puck's trajectory unpredictable. The rule originally limited the blade curvature to between one-half and three quarters of an inch; in 1970, it was set at one-half-inch.
Slowed by injuries and age, Hull played only a few games in the WHA's final season of 1978–79. However, after the 1979 merger of the two leagues (including the Jets) and reportedly in financial straits, Hull came out of retirement to play once more for the NHL Jets. He played in eighteen games before being traded to the Hartford Whalers for future considerations, and played effectively in nine games and three playoff games before retiring once more to care for his partner who had been injured in an automobile accident.
In September 1981, Hull attempted one final comeback with the New York Rangers at age 42. However, it was a very brief attempt that only lasted five exhibition games before Hull and the Rangers both decided it was best to end the comeback. Hull had one goal, and one assist in those five games. It was the second time in Hull's career that he had played exhibition games with the Rangers; in 1959, after missing the playoffs the previous spring, the Rangers and the Boston Bruins had been sent on an exhibition tour of Europe, and then-emerging star Hull and Eddie Shack were added to the Rangers' roster for the tour. Hull and Shack co-led the Rangers in scoring, each netting 14 goals over the 23-game tour.
Hull ended his career having played in 1,063 NHL games, accumulating 610 goals, 560 assists, 1,170 points, 640 penalty minutes, three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Memorial Trophies (he finished second or third in the voting a additional six times), a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, a Stanley Cup Championship and adding 102 penalty minutes, 62 goals and 67 assists for 129 points in 119 playoff games. He played in 411 WHA games, scoring 303 goals, 335 assists and 638 points, adding 43 goals and 37 assists in 60 playoff games.
In 1978, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Beside his Hall of Fame induction, Hull's No. 9 jersey has been retired both by the Blackhawks and the Jets (and is still honoured by the Jets' successor team, the Arizona Coyotes. When Bobby's son Brett Hull joined the Coyotes, they unretired the number for Brett to wear during his brief stint there to honour his father.) Evander Kane, who wore number 9 for the current Winnipeg Jets franchise, sought and received Hull's permission to wear the number.
In 1998, Hull got involved in a controversy with the Russian media when he allegedly made pro-Nazi comments. According to the Associated Press he was quoted as saying, "Hitler, for example, had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far." He later claimed the interviewer misunderstood him in the translation. The incident was satirized by the Canadian mock news show This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Host Rick Mercer read a spot saying Hull has been misquoted, that he had actually said, "Sittler had some good ideas." The reference was to former National Hockey League star Darryl Sittler.
In 2003, he was named the figurehead commissioner of a new World Hockey Association, intended to operate during the NHL lock-out in 2004–05; it never entered play, and the organization subsequently ran several ephemeral low-minor league and unsanctioned Tier II junior leagues. He currently serves as an ambassador for the Blackhawks' organization.
Hull's younger brother Dennis (nicknamed "the Silver Jet") starred alongside him with the Chicago Black Hawks for eight seasons, scoring over 300 goals in his own right. Some commentators often wondered which brother had the harder shot. When Bobby was excluded from the 1972 Summit Series because he played in the WHA, Dennis initially planned to boycott the event as well as a show of support for his brother, but Bobby persuaded him to stay on Team Canada.
Hull's third oldest son, Brett Hull (the "Golden Brett"), was a star too, finishing his own illustrious career with 741 goals, still the fourth-highest goal total in NHL history. Bobby and Brett are the only father-and-son tandem to achieve the marks of more than 50 goals in a NHL season and more than 600 NHL goals. They are also the only father-and-son tandem to win the Hart Trophy and Lady Byng Trophy. While playing for the Phoenix Coyotes (formerly the Winnipeg Jets) in 2005, Brett donned his father's retired No. 9 for the last five games of his career.
Hull's other sons are Bobby Jr., Blake, and Bart. Bart Hull was a standout running back for the Boise State University Broncos football team in the late eighties and 1990, and played with the Ottawa Rough Riders and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL as well as one season of professional indoor football prior to recurring injuries. Post football, he briefly played professional hockey with the Idaho Steelheads.
Bobby Jr. and Blake both played junior and senior hockey. Bobby won the Memorial Cup with the 1980 Cornwall Royals. Later, they played together for the Allan Cup-winning Brantford Mott's Clamatos of the OHA Senior A Hockey League (AAA Men's Amateur) in 1987. Bobby Jr. also possessed a powerful shot, but lacked the scoring touch of his father and brother Brett.
Hull's daughter, Michelle, was an accomplished figure skater, becoming British Columbia Pre-Novice Champion at the age of 11. After many knee injuries, she concentrated on her schooling and is now an attorney licensed in two states.
Hull was romantically involved with a woman named Claudia Allen. In 1980, Hull retired from the Hartford Whalers to take care of Allen, who was injured in a severe automobile accident. In July 1981 Allen gave birth to Hull's younger daughter, Jessica. The couple never married and around 1983 the couple parted ways. Jessica graduated from Benedictine College with a degree in Elementary Education and currently resides in California.
Hull's marriage to Joanne McKay ended in divorce in 1980 after several abusive incidents. In 1986, he was accused by Deborah, his third wife, of assault and battery. She eventually dropped the charges.Art Ross Trophy winner (1960, 1962, and 1966)
NHL First All-Star Team Left Wing (1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1972)
Stanley Cup champion (1961)
NHL Second All-Star Team Left Wing (1963 and 1971)
Hart Memorial Trophy winner (1965 and 1966)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner (1965)
Lester Patrick Trophy winner (1969)
Became third hockey player to appear on the cover of Time magazine
WHA First All-Star Team (1973, 1974, and 1975)
WHA Second All-Star Team (1976 and 1978)
WHA Most Valuable Player (1973 and 1975)
Avco Cup (WHA) Championships (1976, 1978, and 1979)
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983
Retired as the second leading goal scorer and ninth leading point scorer in NHL history (currently 12th and 43rd respectively).
Second in WHA history in goals, sixth in assists and third in points.
In 1998, he was ranked number 8 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, the highest-ranking left winger.
Upon playing his last playoff game in 1980, he and teammate Gordie Howe became the last active NHL players that had played in the 1950s.
“Honoured Member” of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame
Member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame
Inaugural member of the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame.
Honoured member of the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2011, statues of Hull and Stan Mikita were installed outside the United Center, where the Blackhawks currently play.