Do you remember?

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

Article Text:

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.

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  • Keith Berry

    Watching the coverage of The Trade this week on the NHL Network, I was struck by two things. First, I was shocked to be reminded how much contact there was with the goalies, and the second is how unbelievably hideous Kelly Hrudey’s hair was.

  • anthony

    When Gretzky was traded, I was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas. I was in 3rd week of Basic training.
    My brother informed me when I called him.

    I was very excited and immediately asked him to send me a copy of the L.A. Times and the Herald Examiner.

    Many of the other elisted men I was training with didn’t even know who he was. But I’m sure all of them know who he is now.

    He’s done an amazing thing for hockey in the United States.
    Those were the good old days.
    An exciting time to watch Hockey in California.
    The Best player in the world. (but a lousy coach)

  • cristobal

    I can’t stomach going to the Kings official website.
    How do i find the NHL Network? Time-Warner?
    For bad hair try to find Palffy and Allison around their early NHL years…

    Sorry to ruin this article with my comments.

  • Bobby

    I still can’t believe DL traded “the great one” to LA. Just shows what a crappy GM he is.

  • Harry

    Anthony, why not Daily News and La Times instead?

  • Timoteo

    Wow, thanks for making me feel old Rich. I remember very well, at the time Rollerblades were just getting big and my friends and I played roller hockey almost everyday on a couple of basketball courts. I was one of what felt like a distinct minority that had some reservations about the trade, mostly because the coming of Wayne suddenly turned hockey into a glamor sport in the area and people who had no clue about the game would start showing up to the Forum (and not coincidentally was when the team colors went the way of the Raiders). Although clearly I was too young at the time to realize we were traded Gretzky for the proverbial bag of pucks (ok, $15 million back then would buy a lot of pucks).

  • brianguy

    man, what a read. I distinctly remember hearing about it, but I still didn’t follow hockey all that closely until a couple of years later when I was lucky enough that a friend’s dad had a couple of unused tickets to a game, and lucky me I was just old enough to drive us.

    $350,000 house in Redondo Beach… funny line because it’s meaningless now. that was basically a mansion in 1988.

    NHL has their own network and you really can’t even get it unless you’re on Direct TV. that’s almost as sinful as putting the games on Versus. you’d think people could just pay for that channel by itself on any other service. you’d think

  • cristobal

    brianguy – thanks for the NHL Network info. Hopefully soon tv will be content specific and we’ll be able to watch the stuff we want instead of a bunch of channels we don’t.

    cheers.

  • cristobal

    remember when 100 million US dollars actually meant something? you can barely get a loaf of bread for that now a days.

  • mrk

    There goes Anthony again with his crazy rantings. Just where did you get the materials to make these crazy accusations?

  • http://yahoo.com George

    I was at work that day — a co-worker informed me of the trade. My immediate reaction was ARRRRRRRGH!! FOUR first-rounders AND Carson!! THEY NEVER LEARN!!

    Shortly thereafter, I saw a quote from DT along the lines of ‘now we have a real chance to win the Cup.’ That changed my thinking.

  • brianguy

    cristobal -

    I think a few cable providers carry the NHL Network. very few. I know Time Warner doesn’t, since I used to have them and same with Dish Network either.

    bundled channels are bad enough but when providers are even unwilling to carry it at all that just stinks. NHL should really start putting the content online and charging people $5-10 a month.

    I know most homes in the U.S. can’t even get the NFL Channel so it’s going to be a tough road convincing more places to carry it but still…

  • Goon Squad

    My favorite part:

    “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.”

    I don’t think too many people would ever take back this trade, but it’s something to think about what sort of team they might have built had it not happened. They couldn’t just build around Wayne, they had to go for a bunch of quick fixes to try and win quickly.

  • Chris

    I remember it well. I was 17. Out with my girlfriend that night. We waited until past midnight to go to my house and sneak into my bedroom. We were tip-toeing down the hall when I heard my little brother’s voice come from his room. “Chris”. We kept walking. “Chris!” I was thinking, “Damn, why is he still up?” I walked into his room. “What?” “Gretzky got traded to the Kings.” “Huh?” “Gretzky got traded to the Kings today.” “Shut up!” I was irritated, thought he was kidding around. I heard him snickering “Hehehehehehe” as I headed for my room to catch up with my girlfriend. I was annoyed, thinking that he was such a weasel staying up so late just to interrupt my tryst. I found out otherwise the next morning.

  • yesitscal

    That was a trade any GM had to make, but I sometimes wondered after that what things would have been like with Carson and the three number ones. I don’t think the Oilers drafted anyone of consequence with the picks they got, but I even still sometimes wonder how different things might have been. They were just starting to form a nucleus of good young kids with Robitaille, Carson and Duchesne, around the veterans like Nichols, Taylor and others.

  • JDM

    Ah, and this is where my big weakness comes in… I can’t remember because I was only 3! I have vague memories of Gretzky’s first few years, but certainly don’t remember the day at all. I don’t have any distinct memories of the Kings until 89 or 90, and even those are really just smatterings of images. I got to meet him and the rest of the team in the locker room in ’92 though, and that was pretty sweet. I grew up idolizing Wayne.

    Thank god I was old enough to remember something of the ’93 run, otherwise it would be really really hard to still be a Kings fan. ’93 and ’00-’02 are the only things that keep me going sometimes.

  • Anonymous

    Just an FYI, Dish also carries NHL network. I get it with my HD package. I think the channel number is in the 400′s (right around the same place the center ice channels are)

  • Quisp

    Mostly what I remember is watching that season on a black-and-white TV, which is not such a bad deal because the Kings’ colors all came through nicely that way.

  • cristobal

    I sometimes wondered after that what things would have been like with Carson and the three number ones. I don’t think the Oilers drafted anyone of consequence with the picks they got, but I even still sometimes wonder how different things might have been. They were just starting to form a nucleus of good young kids with Robitaille, Carson and Duchesne, around the veterans like Nichols, Taylor and others.
    —yesitscal 8/8/08

    on this fatefull day full of 8′s, yesitscal showed us all that, even with the benefits of hindsight, he cannot make the wise decision. And you wanna be my GM….

  • yesitscal

    I also said that that was a trade any GM had to make, but somehow that went clear over your head. Maybe I can now understand the comment someone left on another thread that said that you, Cristobal, have your head up your ass.

  • historyguy

    I remember exactly where I was…

    I was dating a girl who lived in Sacramento at the time and was on a Greyhound bus going to visit her. When I got there, the first thing she said was that the Kings had traded for TGO. I seriously did not believe her until we got to her house and I saw it for myself!

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