Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson and the 40 greatest L.A. sports athletes

Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Lakers (Photo by Kirby Lee/Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Lakers
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Number 7: Wayne Gretzky

The greatest hockey player in NHL history changed the course of a franchise and the league when during the summer of 1988 he accepted a trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. What was considered a national calamity in Canada created a hockey boom in Southern California.

With the Kings, Gretzky turned the mediocre franchise into an instant winner, making the playoffs his first five seasons with the team. Gretzky won three Art Ross trophies (league points leader), he won three Lady Byng (most gentlemanly play) and is still the only Kings player to win the Hart Trophy (league MVP).

With the Kings Gretzky lead the league in assists five times and was named to the postseason NHL All-Star five times as well. Gretzky could not lift the Stanley Cup with the team but not for lack of trying. Gretzky led the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, their first in franchise history, leading the postseason in goals (15), assists (25), and points (40). His greatest game as King was during the Campbell Conference Finals where he registered a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road to lead the Kings to the conference title.

Perhaps Gretzky’s greatest legacy with the Kings was the popularity he created for hockey in Southern California. Before Gretzky arrived the Kings were the only team playing in the sunbelt area. By the time he retired in 1999, there were three teams in California, teams in Florida, the South and Texas.