Twenty years ago tomorrow, a fellow by the name of Wayne Gretzky took up residence in Los Angeles. The Kings’ website has done a tremendous job this week of recapping the anniversary, for those who want to relive the moment. As a journalist, it’s always fun for me to look back and see how my paper covered big events at the time. I’ll cut and paste the story that the Daily News ran on Aug. 10.
What are your memories of that day?
Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)
August 10, 1988
GRETZKY GOES HOLLYWOOD
KING OF HOCKEY TO PLAY FOR L.A.
Author: STEVE ROSENBLOOM Daily News Staff Writer
Wayne Gretzky, who is regarded by many as the greatest hockey player ever, was sent by the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday to the Los Angeles Kings in perhaps the most sensational trade in sports history.
Choked by emotion at an Edmonton news conference, Gretzky said he asked to be traded to the Kings to spend more time with his expectant wife, Los Angeles-based actress Janet Jones.
“I talked to (Kings owner) Mr. (Bruce) McNall,” said the 27-year-old Gretzky, who has led Edmonton to four Stanley Cup championships in the past five seasons. “After spending some time with him, I decided that for the benefit of Wayne Gretzky, my new wife and our expected child in the new year, it would beneficial for everyone involved to let me play with the Los Angeles Kings.”
The trade brought two other players to Los Angeles and sent two players, three draft choices and an estimated $15 million to Edmonton.
It sparked an immediate outcry throughout Canada but particularly in Edmonton, where fans jammed the Oilers’ 21 phone lines all day.
“Pocklington . . . got my season-ticket money before he announced this,” said an elderly woman who called an Edmonton newspaper. “But I’ll never step foot in that building again. They’ll never get another dollar out of me.”
Some callers to Edmonton radio stations blamed Jones, likening her to
Yoko Ono, whose marriage to John Lennon was blamed by many rock music fans for the 1970 breakup of the Beatles.
In Los Angeles, meanwhile, enthusiastic Kings fans flooded the season- ticket department with an estimated 1,000 calls.
“Fans would call and ask ‘Is it true, and if it is, how can I pick up my seats?’ ” said Keith Jacobson, who works in the season ticket department.
Kings players, too, were excited about playing with Gretzky, who holds or shares 41 NHL records.
“It’s awesome, unbelievable,” Kings center Bernie Nicholls said. ”Playing with that guy will be awesome. I don’t know who we can’t compete with. We’re gonna have a great team.”
Gretzky, whose lavish wedding on July 16 in Edmonton was treated with royal magnitude in Canada, tried to express his emotions after spending 11 seasons with the Oilers.
“I’m disappointed about having to leave Edmonton,” he said. “I truly admire all the Edmonton fans and respect everyone over the years . . . but, um . . .”
Gretzky was overcome with emotion and wiped away some tears. Still unable to speak, he took a couple of sips of water. Someone handed him a handkerchief and he tried to speak again but could not. The unstoppable Gretzky was stopped by tears, finally backing away from the microphones.
Traded along with Gretzky were forwards Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley. In exchange, the Kings surrendered Jimmy Carson, who at age 19 scored 55 goals last season, the most ever by an American-born player; Martin Gelinas, the left wing taken with the Kings’ first draft choice this June; the team’s No. 1 draft picks in 1989, ’91 and 93; and an estimated $15 million.
McNall said he is negotiating with Prime Ticket cable network, which has agreed to kick in part of the money.
“When you get the greatest player, you have to pay the price,” Kings general manager Rogie Vachon said. “We didn’t want to give up Jimmy Carson, but Edmonton said they wouldn’t make the deal without him.”
Carson, the poised star whom Kings selected with the second overall draft choice in 1986, said he didn’t want to leave Los Angeles, but understood the trade. Now, Carson, who bought a $350,000 house in Redondo Beach in May, is faced with replacing Gretzky in a city of fans jaded by years of success.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Carson said from his parents’ home in Michigan, “but no one can replace Wayne Gretzky.”
Vachon said the trade alters the Kings’ plans to build for the future.
“This really changes our plans – not that I’m complaining,” Vachon said. “The future is now. We have to win this year. I think we have to make some more trades to give Wayne a better supporting cast.”
Tuesday announcement was part of an emotionally and physically draining day for Gretzky. He flew up to Edmonton with McNall in McNall’s private jet at 7:30 a.m. for an afternoon news conference, then returned to Los Angles for another meeting with the press at an airport hotel.
The trade began and ended with the owners. McNall credited former Kings owner Jerry Buss with starting things by approaching the Oilers about Gretzky several seasons ago. But serious negotiations began last month with dozens of telephone calls between McNall and Pocklington.
“Wayne has given so much to this city and to hockey in the past decade that I believe he has the right to set his own destiny,” Pocklington said. ”I made a decision based on Wayne the person rather than Wayne the hockey player.”
Unquestionably, it is the most significant moment in the history of a Los Angeles franchise that has known failure for most of its 21 seasons. The bold stroke also underscored new owner McNall’s intentions to make the Kings a winner.
“I think Bruce is going to have to sell a few horses or something,” Nicholls said of the Kings’ 38-year-old owner, a Century City entrepreneur with more than $100 million in holdings in ancient coins, art objects, a movie production company and horse racing stables. “He didn’t get where he is by sitting on his butt. He’s serious about helping us become a winner. He definitely showed it today.”
WHY THEY CALL HIM GREAT
New Los Angeles Kings center Wayne Gretzky, 27, became a major-league hockey player at the age of 17 when he joined the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. After eight games, he was sold to the Edmonton Oilers and joined the more established National Hockey League a year later when the WHA disbanded and the Oilers were absorbed into the older league.
Gretzky has earned a reputation as “The Great One” with fans, coaches and players alike. Little wonder, after nine seasons, he:
Holds 44 NHL records, including most goals, assists and points in a season, assists in a career and individual records.
Won an unprecedented eight successive NHL most valuable player awards his first eight seasons in the league.
Was league scoring leader an unprecedented seven straight times.
Has averaged fewer than 28 penalty minutes per season in a sport known for its fighting.
Has taken Edmonton to the Stanley Cup playoffs nine straight seasons, winning the finals four times.
Has 583 goals and 1,086 assists for 1,669 points in 696 games, while all-time goals leader Gordie Howe, for example, needed 1,767 games to record 801 goals.
May be only halfway through his career.