The worst trade of all time: ‘30 for 30’ recap, Episode 1

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They say when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. 

But how do you still make lemonade when life throws out sports indefinitely and hands you a one-way ticket to the couch all summer?

Short answer: You get creative. 

I was determined to make it so that my time on the couch would not be in vain. Instead of wasting time watching a fictional TV show or a boring documentary, I decided on the best of both worlds and chose a sports documentary.

I scoured Amazon Prime for the ESPN docuseries “30 for 30” in dramatic fashion using my voice remote and was rewarded with very mixed feelings. Every single episode of the series. But it was going to cost me a pretty penny. 

My trust in the streaming services had been tried and tested, and at this moment, it failed me.

So I then did what any other student sports journalist would do in my situation. I went down a deep internet rabbit hole filled with “free” video-sharing websites only to be disappointed again by the lack of easy accessibility to these documentaries. 

For a brief moment, I had lost all hope. But then — like something out of a movie — my mother came through the front door, and in that moment, it hit me that what started as a pipe dream might just become reality. 

I took the leap and inquired about bankrolling assistance, and I was not unsatisfied.   Now properly funded, my dreams of watching and blogging about every “30 for 30” episode were all coming true. 

The moral of this story is that when life hands you lemons, you make the best darn lemonade on the planet.

Life handed me lemons in the form of endless “30 for 30” episodes, so I went right in and forked over $5.99 a month. 

Without further ado, I present the first installment of my “30 for 30” recap and review marathon special. 

Season 1, Episode 1: “Kings Ransom” 

Rating: 7/10

“Kings Ransom” follows former Edmonton Oilers cover boy Wayne Gretzky in the trade that redefined hockey.

Well, that’s what the audience is led to believe, but ESPN details more about the trade itself than the actual impact it had on the NHL.

Frankly, I have questions that need answering, but at the moment, “What were you thinking?” would suffice for then-Oilers owner Peter Pocklington.

Gretzky was arguably the best player in the NHL at 27 years young and still entering his prime. Any sound front office should understand that the best player in the league is untradeable. Period.

Instead, Pocklington traded away Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings for $15 million, along with some draft picks and a handful of players.

As I watched this unbelievable moment unfold on my TV screen, I couldn’t help but notice that Gretzky seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I mean, he was the man on the ice, but even he tried and failed to understand why he was traded.

Were the Oilers broke? Probably. Pocklington leads us to believe so, but I’d argue that’s no reason to trade away the greatest player in the sport. This trade was the NHL equivalent of trading prime LeBron James for a sandwich and a bag of chips.

Bruce McNall, then-owner of the Kings, ended up cashing in big-time from the Gretzky trade, as tickets and merchandise flew off the shelves as the superstar arrived. I wasn’t at all surprised by this.

In the end, Gretzky would never win another title, but credits the NHL to this day for that infamous trade, which he surprisingly seems to be OK with. Pocklington thinks it was one of the greatest trades of all time, and McNall would serve 70 months in jail for fraud.

ESPN’s first episode of its “30 for 30” docuseries gives a perspective into the business behind sports and drives home the theme that nobody, not even the charming Ryan Gosling look-alike who scored 500 goals before the age of 28, is safe.

My only concluding thoughts are that my and Pocklington’s interpretations of “opportunity” are marginally different.

Lucas Perkins-Brown covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected].