Greatest sports figures in L.A. history, No. 12: Wayne Gretzky
Continuing our countdown of the 20 greatest figures in L.A. sports history, as chosen in voting by our online readers, with No. 12, Wayne Gretzky.
No. 12 Wayne Gretzky (36 first-place votes, 1,547 points)
On Aug. 9, 1988, ithe Edmonton Oilers traded the greatest player in NHL history, Wayne Gretzky, along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, to the Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash, and the Kings' first-round draft picks in 1989 (later traded to the New Jersey Devils – New Jersey selected Jason Miller), 1991 (Martin Rucinsky) and 1993 (Nick Stajduhar).
The trade turned Los Angeles from a city with tens of thousands of hockey fans into one with hundreds of thousands of hockey fans. Gretzky scored on his first shot on goal in the first regular-season game and led the Kings into the playoffs his first season. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP and was named the AP male athlete of the decade.
Gretzky was sidelined for much of the 1992–93 season with a back injury, but still led the team in the playoffs, scoring a hat trick in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs as the Kings made the Stanley Cup Finals for the first (and only) time. The less said about what happened there, the better. Curse you, stick of Marty McSorley!
The next season, Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's career goal-scoring record and won the scoring title, but the Kings failed to make the playoffs during the rest of his tenure with the team. On Feb. 27, 1996, Gretzky was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, Craig Johnson, and two draft picks.
Many credit Gretzky's trade to the Kings with the creation of the Mighty Ducks and the San Jose Sharks as the NHL spread to places it had never been before.
In 2000, the NHL announced Gretzky's number, 99, would never be worn by another player and in 2002, the Kings unveiled a life-size statue of Gretzky outside Staples Center.
Photo: Wayne Gretzky with the Kings in 1994. Credit: Los Angeles Times