By Jason Bellamy
He bites his lip. He sniffles. He exhales. He chokes back tears. He tries to speak, but the words won't come out. He laughs. He dabs at his eyes with a tissue, and then he repeats the whole cycle. He tries to speak once more: "There comes a time when ... when, uh ..." His voice fades. That's all he can say. This is Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player of all time, and his heart is breaking. The date is August 9, 1988. Gretzky isn't injured. He isn't sick. He isn't retiring. In fact, his playing career will go on for more than a decade. All that's happened is that Gretzky has been traded in a blockbuster deal that he approved that will allow him to become the highest paid player in the NHL. Nevertheless, Gretzky looks as if someone has died. Nearby, his now former coach and owner sit watching the press conference with the kind of pained, shell-shocked expressions that you'd expect to find on parents checking a teenager into an inpatient rehab facility. This isn't just another press conference. This isn't just another sports transaction. This is the end of a love story and the most important event in hockey since the United States upset the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.
That you probably don't remember that day with the clarity reserved for "The Miracle on Ice," or never noted it the first time around, or haven't thought about it in a while, is part of the reason it's being memorialized now in a documentary called Kings Ransom. Directed by Peter Berg (The Kingdom), Kings Ransom is the first release of a new series of documentaries from ESPN Films called "30 for 30," which will explore some of the most significant but often forgotten or otherwise under-appreciated sports stories of the past three decades (the amount of time that ESPN has been on the air). August 9, 1988 is a great place to start, because the deal sending Gretzky (along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski) from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings for $15 million and three first-round draft choices is almost undoubtedly the most significant trade in any North American team sport in the past 30 years. The only reason you might not think of it that way is because it happened within a sport that most Americans didn't pay attention to then and/or don't pay attention to now.
To read the rest of the review at The Cooler, click here.