May 9, 2023

The Biggest Trades in Sports History

The biggest trades in sports history have changed the fortunes of countless teams and bettors over the years, for better and for worse. Whether attitudes got in the way or salary concerns became insurmountable, these trades shook up the sporting landscape for years to come.

Here are the biggest trades in recent sporting history:

#6 Patrick Roy to Colorado Avalanche

Patrick Roy

Patrick Roy is widely regarded as one of the best NHL goaltenders of all time, with three Vezina Trophies, three Conn Smthe trophies, five Jennings trophies and four Stanley Cups to prove it.

But that didn’t stop Montreal Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay from humiliating Roy on December 2, 1995. As Roy’s former roommate and longtime foe, Tremblay opted to leave the superstar goalie in net for the entirety of a devastating 11-1 loss against the Detroit Red Wings.

The move was widely viewed as malicious considering NHL goaltenders are usually pulled quickly from lopsided games or rough starts. After the game, Roy definitively stated it was his “last game in Montreal.”

He was quickly traded to the Colorado Avalanche in a shockingly one-sided deal, who went on to win their first Stanley Cup months later.

#5 Alex Rodriguez to New York Yankees

Alex Rodriguez running bases

A-Rod is a polarizing personality with outsized celebrity even for a professional athlete. But regardless of what you think of his vide, he was an absolute stud during the 2003 season.

When the Texas Rangers decided they could no longer stomach his salary requirements, A-Rod was fresh off winning his second Gold Glove and becoming the youngest player to hit 300 home runs. Oh year – he was also the reigning AL MVP.

After a marquee deal with the Boston Red Sox – to include Manny Ramirez and future star Jon Lester – was vetoed by the Player’s Association, A-Rod agreed to switch positions and play third base with the Yankees.

#4 Ricky Williams to New Orleans Saints

Ricky Williams New Orleans Saints

The Ricky Williams trade is a classic love story gone wrong. It’s one we’ve all seen before – overzealous suitor gives up everything in pursuit of a potential flame that just can’t return the favor.

Prior to the 1999 NFL Draft, New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka become enamored with star University of Texas running back Ricky Williams. Ditka became convinced that landing Williams was the key to the Saints’ future success, and he was willing to do whatever it took to select him in the upcoming draft.

The Washington Redskins decided to play matchmaker with a first-round, fifth-overall pick that delivered Williams to New Orleans. But the deal cost the Saints every remaining pick they had in the draft.

Williams ended up with a lackluster first season in which the Saints went 3-13. Ditka was fired, leaving his predecessors in the unfortunate position of having to spend $15 million and sign 27 free agents to make up for the lost draft picks.

#3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Los Angeles Lakers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Lakers

At 7’2”, Kareem was literally and figuratively an outsized figure by the time the Milwaukee Bucks traded him to the Lakers in 1975. Well-known as a gentleman, Kareem nonetheless found a way to express his frustrations in Milwaukee by the end of the 1974-1975 NBA season.

While he never took issue with team management or coaching staff, Kareem simply found his lifestyle incompatible with anything less than a major coastal metropolis. He insisted on a trade to Los Angeles or New York City, and the Lakers ultimately granted his wish in one of the biggest NBA trades in history.

The trade ushered in the “Showtime Era” of Lakers basketball, with Kareem at the helm collecting almost every NBA record in the book as the team secured five NBA Championships.

#2 Kevin Garnett to Boston Celtics

Kevin Garnett laughing

Kevin Garnett started and ended his NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but his only NBA Championship came the year he was traded to the Boston Celtics, ultimately leading them to the prize in 2008.

Garnett held the distinction of holding the longest tenure with any single NBA team at the time of the trade, having already played 12 seasons in Minnesota.

The deal for Garnett remains the most lopsided trade in NBA history, a 7-for-1 package that saw the Wolves pick up five players, cash considerations and two first-round draft picks. Of course, they also got Garnett back nearly a decade later.

#1 Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles Kings

Wayne Gretzky LA Kings

For casual fans, the name Wayne Gretzky is synonymous with hockey. Still widely considered the ‘greatest of all time’, the Canadian’s 1988 move to Los Angeles is credited with the sport’s popularity in the United States.

Gretzky had already spent a decade in Edmonton, transforming the way hockey was played across the league with a team-oriented, head-first strategy that remains dominant to this day. Just two hours after the Oilers won the 1988 Stanley Cup, Gretzky learned he would be traded for cash needed to cover the owner’s flailing other businesses.

The deal was a monster, with Kings giving up $15 million (more than $33 million today), two players, and three first-round draft picks. The move remains known simply as “The Trade” and it earned the ire of Canadians nationwide, who considered Gretzky a traitor despite the fact he never desired to leave Edmonton.

The Kings enjoyed a massive increase in fan interest as a result of The Trade, which set off an explosion of interest in hockey that allowed the league to expand across the American Sun Belt.

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