August 9, 1988: The Edmonton Oilers deal Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings for a five-player package.
Since Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers joined the National Hockey League in 1979, the 6-0 center tore through the league with unprecedented domination.
Starting from his NHL debut season in 1979-80 as a 19-year-old, Gretzky won the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player a ridiculous eight consecutive times.
Gretzky's total of 92 goals in 1981-82 is still the single-season league record, and he also holds the No. 2 spot with 87 in 1983-84.
His mark of 163 assists in 1985-86 also still stands as the best ever, and Gretzky surpassed 100 assists in eight of his nine seasons with Edmonton -- something only two players (Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr) have even done once in their careers.
With the Oilers, Gretzky had four seasons with at least 200 total points, which has never been done by any other player.
Although the 1987-88 season marked the first time in his NHL career that he did not win the Hart Trophy (he was limited to 64 games due to injury), Gretzky still responded with a phenomenal postseason, securing 12 goals and 31 assists in 19 games as the Oilers took their fourth Stanley Cup in five years.
Immediately after the title win, though, Oilers owner Peter Pocklington shook the hockey world.
Gretzky's contract with the Oilers only had a year remaining, and Pocklington suspected that the team's chances of keeping its star would be slim. Gretzky's wife, actress Janet Jones, knew she could benefit from the film scene in Los Angeles, and the Oilers were in a dire financial situation due to their small market.
On August 9, Pocklington pulled the trigger on what remains the sport's most historical transaction. The Oilers agreed to trade Gretzky to the Kings, receiving center Jimmy Carson (55 goals in 1987-88), 1988 seventh overall draft pick Martin Gelinas, three future first-round draft picks, and $15 million in return.
In this emotional interview right after the trade, the superstar understood the reasons for Pocklington's decision, but still expressed great respect and nostalgia for his epic Edmonton career:
The Oilers' faithful responded extremely negatively to the trade, but all animosity was directed to the front office instead of Gretzky. Born in Ontario, Canada, Gretzky remained a fan favorite, as he received a standing ovation in his first appearance back in Edmonton.
Most fans assumed that the Kings "won" the deal as a result of acquiring the world's consensus top player, and this was seemingly confirmed in 1988-89, when Gretzky won his ninth MVP award and Los Angeles eliminated the Oilers in a seven-game playoff series.
However, the Oilers proceeded to win the 1990 Stanley Cup, while the Kings didn't win their first championship until 2012 - 13 years after Gretzky's retirement. Although Gretzky led the league in points in three of his seven seasons with the Kings, he did not win another Hart Trophy after 1989. The Kings advanced to one Stanley Cup final in his tenure (in 1993, falling to the Montreal Canadiens.)
In 2009, Pocklington released an autobiography titled "I'd Trade Him Again -- on Gretzky, Politics and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal," backing up his decision in hindsight. Pocklington admitted that "it was no fun" anticipating the criticism that the trade would bring, but he maintained his stance that the team was unlikely to maintain Gretzky in free agency and the trade was necessary as a result.
After being traded to the St. Louis Blues and then signing with the New York Rangers, Gretzky retired in 1999 after a 20-year career. Although Gretzky didn't win another Stanley Cup after leaving Edmonton, he still is the all-time leader in career goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857) -- a full 970 points ahead of second place Mark Messier.
Gretzky, now 54, was such an obvious Hall of Fame choice that he didn't need to undergo the conventional waiting period, as he was inducted in the summer of 1999 immediately after his retirement.
In addition, Gretzky's No. 99 jersey was retired league-wide in 2000, making him the only person in NHL history to own such an honor.