“Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, America and the Day Everything Changed” by Stephen Brunt
Ice Hockey, professional, Oilers, Kings
November 1, 2009
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
August 9, 1988 is a date that has become famous in hockey history. It was the date that Wayne Gretzky, considered by many to be the greatest hockey player to ever lace up skates, was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. At the time, the Oilers were a hockey dynasty, having won the Stanley Cup four of the past five seasons, while the Kings were barely a blip in Los Angeles and even in their own building, playing second fiddle to basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers.
The trade left not only Edmonton, but the entire country of Canada in shock and despair. Los Angeles suddenly became a hockey hotbed and Kings games were must-see events, complete with celebrity guests. However, the burning question remained: why was this trade made? Why was the face of an entire sport traded from a team in the country where hockey is the national sport to a franchise in a warm-weather city? This question is covered from many different angles in this excellent book by Stephen Brunt.
Having read some of Brunt’s work earlier, I was looking forward to his writing on this event that stunned the entire sports world. The title of the book came from the fact that Gretzky was shedding tears at the press conference announcing the trade, stating that he was leaving Edmonton with a heavy heart and was sad to be going. Brunt’s research reveals that there was much more to this press conference than simply Gretzky showing his emotions. There is evidence that some, Brunt included, believe that this wasn’t the case at all, but instead something that Gretzky actually wanted.
The owners of the two teams and architects of the trade, Peter Pocklington of the Oilers and Bruce McNall of the Kings, are subjects that Brunt covered quite well in both his research and writing. Neither man comes off looking very good in this book, and given the endings for both of them, especially McNall, I believed that this was an accurate portrayal of them. McNall especially was portrayed as a complex figure, building his fortune in a Ponzi-type scheme and then have it come crashing down. However, more than just acquiring Gretzky for his team, McNall has grandiose plans for the entire sport and had a more than willing accomplice in Commissioner Gary Bettman. These were far-reaching plans that, as Brunt points out, are still being felt more than 20 years after the trade.
Not only does Brunt expose the roles of the three main people of the trade, he also dispels some myths about the trade, such as Gretzky was demanding the trade because his wife, Janet Jones, was an aspiring actress. This comparison to Yoko Ono was a popular tabloid topic in Canada, but Brunt dismisses that rumor as well as others and gets down to the real reason – the backroom discussions and dealings that all three men were involved in.
Stephen Brunt has written another winner with this book and is the most comprehensive account of not only the trade itself, but also what became of the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers after the trade. The research into Pocklington and McNall is also first-rate. This is a must-read for any hockey fan interested in learning more about how this one transaction transformed the game.
Did I skim?
Pace of the book:
Excellent as I read this book very quickly. It moved along seamlessly from Gretzky to Pocklington to McNall and then to all parties involved in the trade.
Do I recommend?
All hockey fans should read this in-depth account of the trade that stunned the sports world and changed the culture of a sport, most likely for good