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Old 12-26-2017, 03:24 PM   #1
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(Mc)Master of his Domain, King(s) of his Castle

Summer, 1988

It’s another beautiful summer in Los Angeles. The LA Dodgers are driving towards what will be, as of 2017, their final World Series title. (The idea of preparing for the upcoming NLCS against the New York Mets by going 1-11 against the Mets in the regular season seems a little strange, but hey, it worked for the ’83 Phillies against the Dodgers, so…)

The LA Lakers, having become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the old Bill Russell Celtics of two decades previously, are preparing for a third win. So much so that coach Pat Riley has gone and trademarked the word “threepeat.” And with Earvin "Magic" Johnson only now coming up on his 29th birthday, likely to stay on top for quite a while.

The LA Raiders, having cast loose coach Tom Flores after a depressing end to last season, can at least take comfort in the fact that two-sport star Bo Jackson seems to be the real thing, and are optimistic about their new coach, former Denver offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan. (Al Davis always did love the “young genius” types.)

But perhaps the biggest news in the Southland this summer comes from the unlikely source of the hockey franchise, the LA Kings. Previously the “second team” owned by Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke (and then by Dr. Jerry Buss, to whom Cooke sold both teams), the Kings are now the property of jovial jumbo-sized Bruce McNall, a former “fat kid at the coin show” who turned his hobby into a fortune and wants to give the team its own identity. Some of this is cosmetic, such as changing the Kings colors from mirroring the Lakers’ purple/gold to the Raiders’ silver/black, but then comes the biggest bombshell of all…

Wayne Gretzky was coming to town.

Yes, the greatest of all time was going to be a King. Former owner Jerry Buss had actually tried to purchase Gretzky for $15,000,000 three years previously, but Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had refused. Now, with Pocklington’s other businesses taking in losses (and with Gretzky chafing under his small salary of less than $1,000,000 per year), the Oilers owner was ready to deal.

Gretzky had been initially shocked to find out about the possibility of the trade. (His dad had been told by Nelson Skalbania, who first signed Gretzky to the pros, that Pocklington was shopping Wayne, but Walter Gretzky kept it secret until after the Oilers had won the Stanley Cup, again.) But, after reflection, there were a few upsides. Not only the money (Gretzky would make almost $3,000,000/year as a King), but Wayne was also getting married to Janet Jones, an American actress, and being able to relocate to Los Angeles would have its benefits there. Also, the implication that the Oilers’ success had been more due to the team than to the Greatness of Gretzky, per se, was felt to be something of an insult, and Wayne could see taking a new team to the top as a way to prove himself, even more.

And also, the money.

And so, the stage was set. Each side insisted on its own preconditions; Gretzky wanted his ‘personal protector”, Marty McSorley, in the deal (he even gave hand signals to McNall during the call about this), along with corner-mucker Mike Krushelnyski, while McNall and GM Nick Beverley vetoed the Oilers’ request for “super sophomore” Luc Robitaille, substituting Jimmy Carson instead. (The pair had tallied 111 and 107 points, respectively, the previous season, but the Kings felt they were deeper at center, with Gretzky and Bernie Nicholls, as well as former All-Star Bobby Carpenter, than at wing. And, as Robitaille made the Hall of Fame and Carson was out of the league before he turned 30, despite “Lucky” having been a 9th-round draft pick to Carson’s #2 overall, good call.)

Meanwhile, besides getting Carson, the Kings’ most-recent #1 pick (Martin Gelinas, who had a 17-year career, so not too shabby), and three other future #1 picks, and the original $15 million offer, Pocklington wanted one thing more: for Gretzky to be the one to formally call and request a trade, so he (Pocklington) wouldn’t get run out of town on a rail. Gretzky agreed, even though this got him called a “traitor” by over-zealous Canadian fans for the rest of his career. But finally all was agreed, and the Fat Kid, the Great One, and That Guy Who Traded Wayne Gretzky all got what they wanted, and suddenly as of August 9, 1988, the brightest star in Hollywood wore skates.

Wayne Gretzky was a Los Angeles King.




(wait for it…)

(No, seriously, wait for it. If I tell you to wait for it, wait for it. Who’s writing this thing, anyhow?)

But…this dynasty ISN’T about the year that Wayne Gretzky joined the Kings. (Although I might do that one, some day.)

It’s about the year he left them, seven seasons down the road.

More to follow.
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