His trade made worldwide headlines in a sport that really didn’t create a plethora of headlines beyond the borders of Canada. Wayne Gretzky, though, was hockey’s greatest player, in his prime and fresh off guiding the Edmonton Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years and a ten-record-tying second Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. Then, he was dealt.
On August 9, 1988, Wayne Gretzky was traded from the dynastic Edmonton Oilers to the ho-hum Los Angeles Kings and almost overnight, the Kings turned into the hottest ticket in Tinseltown, which said a lot considering the Raiders boasted a backfield of two Heisman winners in Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, the Lakers were fresh off winning their third championship in four years (and fifth in eight years), plus the Dodgers were en route to winning their second World Series title of the decade by making short work of the juggernaut that was the Oakland A’s.
Yesterday was Wayne Gretzky’s 51st birthday and I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to appreciate just how important The Great One has been to the Kings franchise, the city of Los Angeles and the emergence of hockey in California. After all, like it or not, Gretzky’s impact on Los Angeles had a lot to do with the NHL expanding to create franchises in Anaheim and San Jose. You may hate them but you have to be happy that the Kings have legitimate rivalries with both the Ducks and the Sharks. As a matter of fact, the Kings didn’t have a legitimate regional rivalry with anyone. I say “legitimate” because neither the Oakland Seals nor the Colorado Rockies were ever any good. Granted, the Kings weren’t much better but with players like Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor, at least the Kings had their share of talent – but I digress.
During his eight seasons in Los Angeles, Wayne Gretzky has done a lot to help his team succeed. They may have never won hockey’s ultimate prize but hockey in the city and California as a whole has been much stronger due to Gretzky’s presence.
Although it is belated, I want to wish Wayne Gretzky a very Happy Birthday and thank him for everything he has done for the Los Angeles Kings.
Photo: Courtesy of Mark Terrill/The Associated Press