Twenty years. Man, I feel old.
This was a trade that shook sports fans to the core. It mean that everyone was expendable, everyone was for sale, nobody was untouchable.
The Great Gretzky was traded. That has to be THE most jaw dropping moment I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan. No trade in sports has come close to creating such a “holy shit!” reaction among sports fans, or had such impact.
Gretzky was the man. The King. He owned hockey. No matter what team you rooted for, no matter where your loyalty lied, you knew in your heart that no one on your team was as good as Gretzky. You envied the Oilers, envied their storied dynasty (even though my team had recently created their own dynasty) and wished like hell he played for your team. But he was an Oiler. He was the Oilers. He was Superman, with a 99 instead of an “S” on his jersey. He was untouchable. Or so we thought.
Hearing Gretzky was traded was like finding out Santa Claus wasn’t real. My world view was shattered. If Wayne Gretzky could be traded, anything could happen.
That night, I met a bunch of hockey friends at a local bar. It was all anyone could talk about. In the middle of baseball season in New York, when Rickey Henderson was stealing a million bases and the Mets were on their way to 100 wins, everyone was talking hockey. There was talk – drunk talk – of going to Edmonton and joining the pitchfork and effigy crowds in solidarity. And there was a lot of calling Gretzky’s wife Janet Jones the Yoko Ono of hockey.
I never got used to seeing Gretzky in an LA jersey. It looked like he was wearing a Halloween costume. It looked wrong. But that trade did teach me to never say never when it came to favorite sons being traded. Gretzky was traded. Anything could happen.
Sportsnet has some original reports from that day.