Wayne Gretzky was traded to the LA Kings thirty-three years ago. It brought relatively obscure franchise legions of new fans, including myself.
August 9, 1988, was a day that sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world. To the disbelief of many, Wayne Gretzky, along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the LA Kings in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round draft picks, and $15 million in cash. At that time, $15 million was an astounding amount of money.
— LandOfThe80s (@landofthe80s) August 9, 2021
Even casual hockey fans know how huge this trade was, given that many consider Gretzky to be the greatest hockey player who ever lived. When I was growing up, I was far from a casual fan (just like now), and because of Gretzky, the Edmonton Oilers were my favorite team. Growing up in upstate New York meant there were not a lot of Oilers fans near me, so for the most part, no one shared my enthusiasm for the Oilers quite as I did.
It didn’t matter to me, however, as nothing could change my feelings toward the team. At least I thought nothing could until the events of August 9, 1988, unfolded, causing what would temporarily be the most traumatic experience of my young life to that point. In today’s world, with the internet and 24/7 hockey coverage on the NHL Network, we would probably have known the Gretzky trade was coming long before the bombshell dropped on that fateful afternoon.
In 1988, when basic cable consisted of about 15 channels (at least where I lived), it was a phone call that I took on my rotary phone from a classmate who also happened to be a Boston Bruins fan, telling me with unrestrained glee in his voice to turn on ESPN. Sure enough, Peter Pocklington, Glen Sather, and Wayne Gretzky himself announced to the world that Wayne had indeed been traded to the LA Kings.
What was I going to do? I had just recently convinced my parents to get me an Oilers jersey for my birthday (no easy task in 1988 New York State). This was surely some kind of a cruel prank. Why would Wayne, of all players, be traded from what was, to me, the greatest team of all time?
Of course, my young mind could not comprehend the economics involved where the Oilers simply could not afford to keep Gretzky around – if I could afford to buy a Nintendo game by saving my paper route money, why couldn’t Pocklington save enough to keep Wayne?
None of that mattered as the deal was done, and I had a big decision to make. Was I going to have two favorite teams? Was I going to root for Wayne in LA but also still back the Oilers as a team? In the end, that just was not practical as the Kings were in the same division as the Oilers, and there was going to be way too much head-to-head competition.
Nope, the Oilers had traded my idol, and if he wasn’t good enough for them, then they weren’t good enough for me either. My allegiance would now be with the Los Angeles Kings, for better or for worse.
In 1988, you could not watch any game you wanted at any time as you can today. If you wanted to watch the Oilers or Kings (at least where I lived), you were at the mercy of ESPN’s (and later SportsChannel’s) schedule, or I was at least lucky enough to live in an area that got the Canadian CBC and Hockey Night in Canada. On CBC, I watched Gretzky’s first game back in Edmonton since the trade, which was on October 19 of that same year.
Although surreal at first, it took about ten seconds into the game for me to realize that I was now a full-blown LA Kings fan, and there was no turning back. The joy of Wayne and the Kings eliminating the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs that season, especially after being down three games to one, was extra sweet.
Wayne Gretzky would play for two more teams after the Kings, but it did not have the same effect on me as it did in 1988. I’ve been following the Kings since then. I imagine there are many other stories out there like mine, but I hope this helps show the massive impact that trade had – and still does to this very day.