ESPN gets one right: A review of Kings Ransom

August 9, 1988 is the day my heart was broken for the first time. As a kid growing up in Canada, I lived and breathed hockey for 10 months a year. Wayne Gretzky was my idol. When he was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, it felt like a personal betrayal. It would not be an understatement to say that I hated Peter Pocklington, really hated him, for what he did to me.

Peter Berg’s Kings Ransom, part of ESPN’s new documentary series 30 for 30, goes into great detail about what was called, in Canada, at least, the Trade of the Century. In interviews with everyone who took part – Pocklington, Glen Sather, Bruce McNall, and, of course, Wayne Gretzky – Berg goes through the beginning, the consummation, and the aftermath.

Wayne Gretzky traded on August 9, 1988

Wayne Gretzky traded on August 9, 1988

I really liked how Berg dug into the trade’s mechanics. How Jerry Buss planted the seed in Pocklington’s mind as early as 1985; how Bruce McNall picked up on it; how Sather was adamantly opposed to the deal; how both Pocklington and Gretzky reconciled themselves to the deal. It was like they both had to convince themselves over and over that it was happening. After August 9, the film really caught the hysteria that followed the trade. How Canadians lashed out at Pocklington, who deserved it, and Janet Gretzky, who didn’t deserve it. The media overreaction was, in retrospect, asinine. Eventually, even some fans in Edmonton turned on Gretzky.

There seems to be a small touch of revisionist history in that Gretzky portrays himself as at ease with the deal. I think he’s more at ease with it now than he was two decades ago. Perhaps the most honest moment is when Gretzky admits that he accepted the trade, in part, out of spite. Pocklington’s stance has softened, realizing that he, in all likelihood, made a mistake. With that said, Berg’s documentary was excellent.

As an aside, this idea – 30 for 30 – is a great idea. Too often ESPN shows useless programs – too many World Series of Pokers, off-season NFL Lives, or schlock like E:60 – but this has potential. I wish the documentary had lasted 2 hours but I can live with what was an entertaining, informative 1 hour. Keep it up, ESPN, and you might just win me back.


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