'Tis the season for hand-to-hand combat over children's toys and grown men sleeping on concrete for the chance to buy the sexiest big-screen TV they can lash to their automobiles—all in the name of deals.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, I am breaking down 10 iconic deals in sports history. From ballsy business moves to lopsided mega-trades, these transactions broke hearts and brokered the talent of some of the best athletes in sports.
Remember the summer of 2007? I try not to.
The beers were hot and the women were cold, but I do recall the Celtics lustily scrambling after Kevin Garnett like a randy bloodhound.
The Celtics wanted Garnett—then a Minnesota Timberwolf—so badly that when he blocked their initial attempt for a trade, the Celtics swapped Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and a first-round draft pick with the Seattle SuperSonics for sharpshooting guard Ray Allen—a hell of a deal for Boston by itself.
Picking up Allen impressed Garnett and prompted a mega-deal exchange between Boston and Minnesota involving five players and two first-round draft picks.
So who got the better deal? Well, the Timberwolves won 24 games in 2007-08, and Boston went on to post the best single-season turnaround in NBA history, winning 66 games and the franchise’s 17th national championship.
So there’s that.
What’s better than shopping at the thrift store? Finding a bad-ass rayon track jacket at the thrift store.
Sure it smells like hospice urine, but it was only $4, and that funk comes out with a spin or five in the washer. And what are you left with? A unique finishing piece for your party ensemble that you can’t buy anywhere else.
And that unique piece is exactly what the St. Louis Rams found when they rummaged through the NFL’s goodwill store, the Arena Football League, and scooped up future league MVP and hopeful future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner from the Iowa Barnstormers.
Faced with mounting debts and struggling to pay out due bonuses to Julius Erving, New Jersey Nets owner Roy Boe decided to bite the bullet and sell the future star to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976 for $3 million and (presumably) a big, sad box of tissues.
The trade crippled the Nets, who went on to win a paltry 24 games the following season. Dr. J, however, packed up his awesome nickname and took his talents to Philadelphia, where he won a national championship with the 76ers and experienced a decade of selections for the NBA All-Star team.
Fertitta (far right) and White (right).
Don’t get me wrong—I hate Affliction T-shirts and barbwire tattoos like Tom Arnold hates making good movies—but you have to hand it to entrepreneurs Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta for getting a hell of an early bird special in the world of mixed martial arts.
American businessmen and childhood friends, White and Fertitta decided to take a chance on the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2001, dropping $2 million for the rights to some kind of...thing that was not even a sport yet.
Now look what they have.
Over the last decade, the UFC brand has expanded astronomically, buying up its competitors and signing big television deals with networks like Spike and Fox. Now UFC is available in 122 countries and 22 languages, and its pay-per-view buy rates are stellar.
Touché Affliction. Tou-damn-ché.
The Colts lost future Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway because of the most cardinal rule of salesmanship: The customer is always right.
John Elway left college and faced one of those old pickles we’ve all been in from time to time.
“Do I get drafted by the Baltimore Colts or play baseball for the New York Yankees?”
Tough choice, but with his athletic talent, Elway essentially was in a buyer’s market and had a blank check with which to do what he wished.
What did he wish for? To play football for anyone but the lowly Baltimore Colts.
After much ado and haggling, the Colts caved in and traded their golden ticket (and dignity) to the Denver Broncos in exchange for quarterback Mark Herrmann, Chris Hinton and a first-round pick in the 1985 draft.
Prior to his halcyon days of yore playing in the tundra of Lambeau Field, and long before the Gunslinger was throwing heat and texting meat in New York, Brett Favre was riding professional pine as a backup quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons.
Favre was drafted by the Falcons in the second round in 1991 and quickly found himself in a “shotgun marriage” type of situation in Atlanta. Head coach Jerry Glanville disagreed with management’s decision in drafting Favre and told reporters it would take a plane crash for him to put the young quarterback into a game.
So the Falcons shopped Favre, and he was eventually picked up by the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a first-round pick. The rest is history.
Prior to "The Trade": Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers.
August 9, 1988. The day Canada wept.
Sweet, sorrowful tears fell onto platters of fries and gravy across the nation of Canada that fateful day when the Edmonton Oilers made “The Trade” and sent Wayne Gretzky—Edmonton’s native son, Canada’s hero—to the Los Angeles Kings.
"The Trade" was not a complete steal for the Kings—the franchise traded Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million and a first-round draft pick in order to sign "The Great One."
But bringing Gretzky to southern California affected the whole game. The trade paid off not only in wins and ticket sales for the Kings, but it expanded the interest and market for hockey in America to a level the sport had never seen.
Put it this way: America won big, and one of the greatest dynasties in hockey gave itself the sack-tap of a lifetime by losing Gretzky.
My grandfather once looked me deep in the eyes and said cryptically, "Jesse James...rode a horse."
To this day, I still don’t know what that actually means—or why Pop-Pop was in the front lawn with a crossbow at that ungodly hour of the morning—but I know in my bones he must have been talking about Jimmy Johnson and the infamous Herschel Walker trade.
Also known as "The Great Train Robbery," the Herschel Walker trade was indeed more of a well-timed heist than an even exchange of goods between rational beings.
And it went down exactly how it sounds like it went down.
Eighteen players and draft picks changed hands between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings on October 12, 1989. The Cowboys traded Herschel Walker and four draft picks in exchange for five players and six conditional draft picks.
It marked a turning point for a struggling Cowboys franchise, which made out like bandits—using their new mountain of picks to draft Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson and other young talents who would lead Dallas to three Super Bowl titles in the '90s.
The second-biggest door-buster of a deal in sports history happened long ago, in the early 20th century, during a time when America ran on driftwood and segregation instead of Dunkin’ Donuts.
The year was 1918. World War I was soiling the peace in Europe, and Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee was soiling the sheets in Beantown.
How did Frazee soil the sheets? By selling "The Great Bambino" to the then-lowly New York Yankees like Walmart sells Vizios to the 47 percent. That’s right, the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees on December 26, 1919 for $100,000 (roughly equivalent to $1.45 million today), to be paid by the Yankees in four installments of $25,000.
In true American fashion, the Sultan of Swat was purchased on credit.
Brew-master. Colonel. Millionaire. Congressman. Team owner.
They all describe Jacob Ruppert Jr.
To say Jacob Ruppert Jr. was in a league of his own would be a criminally offensive understatement; the guy was basically a walking League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. His crowning achievement was the turnaround of a shoddy New York Yankees team into a pennant-winning Goliath.
Overseeing the notoriously talented Yankees lineup known as Murderers' Row, "The Colonel" originally took charge of the struggling Yanks in 1915, buying into the team along with business partner Til Huston. The Yankees improved, most likely due to Ruppert’s business sense and general inability to fail at anything ever.
But even after signing Babe Ruth, The Colonel had a better deal bargain in mind: buying the whole enchilada.
So in 1923, Ruppert made the deal to end all deals and bought out Huston’s share of the squad for $1,250,000. He became sole owner, which led to good times for the New York Yankees and the newly built Yankee Stadium.
Let’s just he say got a great deal on the place.