Rooting for the Los Angeles Kings has been an up and down love affair 30 years in the making. I can pinpoint when it began like it was yesterday, we received a copy of Sports Illustrated in the mail with Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky on the cover.
I knew who Magic Johnson was, it was the 80’s he was the leader of the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers, but I had no idea who Gretzky was. So, I asked my father who Magic was standing next to, he spelled it out for me perfectly. He told me, “That’s Wayne Gretzky the greatest hokey player in the world, and he’s coming to L.A.”
Kings Land The Great Wayne Gretzky
That’s all it took for me to stay tuned, and it was glorious from the beginning. See the Kings had suffered through mediocrity since their inaugural season in 1967. In the crowded landscape of L.A. Sports they suffered from being a niche sport with very few winning seasons. It was not uncommon for 10 thousand people to show up at a Kings game in the 17 thousand seat Forum.
Their one bright spot was the “Miracle on Manchester” playoff game in 1982 when they came back from 5-0 down to upset Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in game three of a playoff series they ultimately one. With Gretzky now on the Kings everything changed, now LA was a hockey town selling out the Forum on a nightly basis.
With Gretzky, the Kings were now front page news, and for a kid like me, it helped me fall in love with hockey.
Watching Gretzky skate, pass, and score opened my eyes to the grace and athleticism of a sport I couldn’t play. Being raised in Los Angeles there were hardly chances for a half-black/half-Mexican kid to lace up skates and jump on the ice. It didn’t matter, thanks to the magic of cable television I got to see all eight years of Gretzky in L.A.
Every season my family would watch the Kings as they tried to chase hockey’s ultimate prize the Stanley Cup.
Kings Couldn’t Lift Cup With The Great One
Unfortunately, despite Gretzky’s presence the Kings didn’t lift the cup, the closest they came was a miracle run in 1993 that included a game seven win against the Toronto Maple Leafs to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Gretzky lifted the Kings on his creaky back and scored three goals in front of his de-facto home town having grown up south of Toronto. He took the Kings the furthest they had ever been in franchise history and had them four wins away from being champions.
Any old-time Kings fan will tell you this was probably when the reality of being a Kings fan hit them. After upsetting a rested and strong Montreal Canadiens team in Montreal to win game one, the Kings lost every single game after that, three straight in overtime, each more insufferable than the other.
They would never reach those heights again during Gretzky’s time with the team. In fact, by 1996 with his friend and team owner Bruce McNall in jail for fraud. As a result, Gretzky asked and received a trade to the St. Louis Blues in pursuit of being on a contending team.
He won one playoff series in the 19 years after that magical 1993 run. However, my fandom endured the mediocrity, Gretzky’s departure, and some constant terrible losing. But it was the trade for Wayne Gretzky in 1988 that turned me into the fan I am today.