It was 20 years ago today

Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to LA.

In the spirit of “where were you when JFK was assassinated,” I was returning home from a vacation with my parents on August 9, 1988. We were somewhere near Cleveland, I had my Walkman* on in the back seat, and my parents got my attention to tell me that it had just been announced on the radio that Wayne Gretzky was being traded to LA later that day.

I remember thinking it seemed improbable that such a thing would really happen — the business side of hockey is a little obscure when you’re 15. And then I remember picturing Gretzky in the gold and purple of the Kings and thinking that he would look very handsome in that uniform.

We got home to Cincinnati that afternoon in time for me to watch the press conferences and see that the trade was real, and that the Kings didn’t wear gold and purple anymore. Nothing would ever be the same again — now there are NHL teams all over the place, and the hideous bland uniform trend still hasn’t been killed off.

* That’s what we called iPods in those days


2 responses to “It was 20 years ago today

  1. I remember that day well, and feeling sad about the trade, that it was cheapening the legacy of such a great player.

    Did you see him play the exhibition game at the Coliseum (pre-season 1989, I think)? We may have chatted about this once. The Penguins came as well not long after that.

  2. Yeah, I went to both the Kings-Rangers and Pens-Rangers game. The Kings game was on a Saturday, so my friend Rebecca and I went downtown to see if we could figure out what hotel the teams were at to get autographs. We found the Kings at what was then the Clarion and got a bunch of autographs, including Gretzky, who chatted with us and even went up and got 8×10 pictures to sign. It was so amazing and surreal, to be chatting with the greatest hockey player in the world in a busy downtown hotel lobby and absolutely no one else was paying any attention to him!

    The Pittsburgh game was on a weekday, so we couldn’t repeat our downtown stalking excursion, but we went down under the Coliseum by the buses after the game. Lemieux came out, signed one or two autographs, and then went and sat on the bus.

    Ironically, before that, I had been more of a Lemieux fan than a Gretzky fan (contrarian to the bone, me…), but afterwards I always liked Gretzky and hated Lemieux. As an adult I can understand that under different circumstances, Lemieux might have been the friendliest guy in the world and Gretzky the dismissive one, but I’m still pro-Gretz and anti-Lemieux, and probably always will be.

    Which just goes to show that famous people just can’t win — a minute-long encounter when maybe they’re just having a bad day or in a bad mood, and it colors someone’s perceptions for life…

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