The Biggest Blockbuster Trades in Sports History

The Biggest Blockbuster Trades in Sports History
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With the NBA trade deadline upon us, we reminisce on some of the greatest trades that went down in sports history. Recently in the NFL, Brandon Marshall was shipped out by Miami to be reunited with Jay Cutler up in Chicago. And in the NBA Monta Ellis just got swapped with Andrew Bogut to play in Milwaukee, as we all await to see the fate of Dwight Howard in Orlando. However only time will tell if these acquisitions were good moves or terrible mistakes.

But what about the real blockbuster trades that have shaped franchises or catalyzed superstar careers? The ones that capture national headlines and have fanbases either in tears or rejoicing. Kevin Garnett to Boston ultimately led to a Celtic championship and John Elway to the Denver Broncos was the beginning of a dynasty. Some teams are only a trade away from a title and some players are just one shot away from greatness.

Here are the biggest blockbuster trades in sports history.

With the NBA trade deadline upon us, we reminisce on some of the greatest trades that went down in sports history. Recently in the NFL, Brandon Marshall was shipped out by Miami to be reunited with Jay Cutler up in Chicago. And in the NBA Monta Ellis just got swapped with Andrew Bogut to play in Milwaukee, as we all await to see the fate of Dwight Howard in Orlando. However only time will tell if these acquisitions were good moves or terrible mistakes.

But what about the real blockbuster trades that have shaped franchises or catalyzed superstar careers? The ones that capture national headlines and have fanbases either in tears or rejoicing. Kevin Garnett to Boston ultimately led to a Celtic championship and John Elway to the Denver Broncos was the beginning of a dynasty. Some teams are only a trade away from a title and some players are just one shot away from greatness.

Here are the biggest blockbuster trades in sports history.


Photo Credit: Getty Images.

MLB: Cliff Lee Makes Way For Roy Halladay

Cliff Lee was sent to Philadelphia by way of a five-year, $120 million deal after spurning bigger offers from the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees. As much of a win as it was for the Phillies, Lee’s signing was also a do-over of sorts for GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who, about a year prior, had dealt away Lee to the Seattle Mariners after trading half the team’s farm system to Toronto for Roy Halladay. All in all, the 2009 trade that brought Halladay to the City of Brotherly Love and landed Lee in the Pacific Northwest was one of the biggest the baseball world has ever seen, with two Cy Young winners at the top of their respective games making their way around the league through a team, the Phillies, coming off two consecutive trips to the World Series.
NFL:Eli Manning and Philip Rivers Swap Coasts Before Their First Snaps

Draft day trades tend to be among the most significant in major professional sports, and few have impacted the franchises involved quite like that which saw the San Diego Chargers and the New York Giants swapping Eli Manning for Philip Rivers during the 2004 NFL Draft. Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning (and his father Archie) had allegedly publicly expressed displeasure with the possibility of playing for a Chargers franchise that, at the time, was down in the dumps and already had Drew Brees at quarterback, wanting instead to play in a big market for a “big time” team. Manning’s disposition put San Diego in an awkward spot, though GM A.J. Smith eventually found a viable trade partner in Big Blue, which selected NC State’s Philip Rivers with the fourth-overall pick and swapped him to southern California for Manning, whom the Bolts took with the top pick. Since then, Rivers has easily been the better of the two quarterbacks on the field, though Manning’s 2008 Super Bowl ring would seemingly pull him much closer to even with Rivers overall.
Premier League: Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Samuel Eto’o Transfer Teams

In the world of international soccer, players aren’t traded; they’re transferred. Regardless of what it’s called, the deal that sent Samuel Eto’o to Inter Milan of Italy’s Serie A in exchange for Barcelona’s Zlatan Ibrahimovich in July of 2009 was monumental. The swap was not only massive in economic terms, but also deeply intriguing, with the big-headed Eto’o apparently forcing Barca’s hand in taking back a player who many would argue was markedly inferior. It’s also tough to deny that Inter came out on top in this one, winning the Treble (domestic league, European and Champions League titles) in 2010 under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, known modestly as “The Special One.”
NFL: Clinton Portis and Champ Bailey Change Helmets

From international football to American football, NFL Pro Bowlers don’t just swap jerseys every day, which is partly what made the 2004 transaction between the Denver Broncos and the Washington Redskins so noteworthy. In it, Mike Shanahan and the Broncos sent running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins for shutdown corner Champ Bailey. Once in Washington, Portis received a shiny new eight-year, $50.5 million deal with the ‘Skins. All of this, despite Portis having only been in the league for two years and Bailey at the time being recognized as the best cover corner in the game. Then again, the fact that both of the principle players involved were just entering their respective football primes is what made this trade so unique.
NHL: Joe Thornton To The San Jose Sharks

Few players in the NHL strike more fear in the hearts of defensemen than Joe Thornton. The All-Star center, often referred to as “Jumbo Joe,” was all over the hockey headlines in December 2005, when the Boston Bruins shipped him off to San Jose for Marco Sturm, Brad Stewart and Wayne Primeau. Thornton’s departure was a huge blow to the Bruins and a welcome addition to the Sharks, as he instantly gelled with team captain Jonathan Cheechoo and went on to win both the Art Ross Trophy, for leading the league in total points, and the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded each year to the NHL’s MVP. Though Thornton has yet to guide San Jose to the Stanley Cup, he has managed to almost single-handedly keep the Sharks in playoff contention each year since he arrived.
NBA: Wilt Chamberlain to The Los Angeles Lakers

League MVPs don’t tend to move from team to team, especially via trade. And especially after winning the award during the season prior. But that’s exactly what happened when the Philadelphia 76ers sent Wilt Chamberlain to the Los Angeles Lakers in July 1968. That trade saw the Lakers, then owned by Canadian sports entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke, send Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff, against whom Wilt had his 100-point game, to Philadelphia to form one of the league’s greatest “Big Threes” with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Though “Wilt the Stilt” was never quite as dominant in LA as he had been in Philadelphia and San Francisco, he did help to bring the Purple and Gold a title in 1972, their first since moving from Minneapolis.
NBA: Dr. J to The Philadelphia 76ers

Wilt is far from the only big-name player to be involved in an exchange with the Sixers. Look no further than Julius Erving, better known to most casual basketball fans as “Dr. J.” Erving came to Philadelphia in 1976, when New York Nets owner Ray Boe sold his contract to the 76ers for $3 million, amid mounting pressure from the Knicks to pay $4.8 million for “invading” the New York market and from Erving himself, who was displeased with Boe’s decision to not give him a raise in light of the aforementioned developments. Dr. J went on to become an all-time great in the NBA for the Sixers, leading the team to the league championship in 1983 while ushering the modern era of basketball as a game for high-fliers.
NFL: Eric Dickerson to The Indianapolis Colts

American football and world football may be different games entirely, but both are privy to seeing players moved at the top of their game. Just three years removed from his all-time best 2,105-yard rushing season, Hall-of-Fame running back Eric Dickerson had his bags packed and was on his way from the Los Angeles Rams to the Indianapolis Colts during the 1987 season in a three-team deal that also included the Buffalo Bills, making it one of the biggest deal in NBA history. Dickerson went on to put up three 1,000-yard seasons in Indy while crossing the 10,000-yard mark for his career while with the Colts, becoming the seventh player and fastest ever to cross that threshold.
NFL: Marshall Faulk to The St. Louis Rams

The Eric Dickerson trade was neither the first mammoth deal between the Colts and Rams nor the last. Twelve years after Dickerson came to Indianapolis, Marshall Faulk was on his way out, as Colts president Bill Polian sent him to St. Louis for two draft picks after Faulk allegedly became something of a club house cancer amid testy contractual negotiations. The Rams awarded Faulk a seven-year, $45.2-million deal upon arrival, which quickly paid off as Faulk became the focal point of St. Louis’ historic “Greatest Show on Turf.” And while the Colts didn’t miss Faulk too much after drafting Edgerrin James, the Rams clearly won out, with a win in Super Bowl XXXIV and a trip to Super Bowl XXXVI to show for their acquisition of arguably the greatest receiving back of all time.
NBA: Shaquille O’Neal To The Miami Heat

Faulk’s feud with Colts management was a mere blip compared to the long-time tiff between Los Angeles Lakers teammates Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, which eventually led to Shaq being shipped to South Beach. In that deal in July 2004, the Miami Heat sent Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick to LA for the three-time NBA champion, who promptly teamed with Dwyane Wade to earn his fourth ring, and coach Pat Riley’s fifth, in 2006. And while it’s incredibly difficult for a team to recover from such a devastating departure, the Lakers have since gone on to win two more titles without Shaq, thanks in large part to Odom’s presence off the bench.
NBA: Kevin Garnett to The Boston Celtics

Just a year after Shaq brought the Larry O’Brien trophy to South Florida, Kevin Garnett found his way to the Eastern Conference when Celtics GM Danny Ainge brought the Big Ticket from Minneapolis to Boston in a trade that instantly changed the NBA landscape. The C’s sent seven players–Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two draft picks–to the T’Wolves for KG, making it the most disparate deal in NBA history in terms of the number of players exchanged for one. As the anchor of Boston’s defense alongside franchise stalwart Paul Pierce and fellow new arrival Ray Allen, Garnett transformed the Celtics into instant title contenders, bringing the franchise its 17th championship, the most of any NBA club.
Premier League: Cristiano Ronaldo To Real Madrid

Given a few years, the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United to Real Madrid may work its way into the top five biggest “trades” in sports history. Aside from being the most expensive transfer in the history of international football, costing Real 80 million pounds sterling in fees, the deal involved two of Europe’s richest, most respected and most storied clubs exchanging a player who practically swept the biggest individual awards in 2008 and who is a member of one of Portugal’s royal orders. Oh, and his arrival at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid was attended by 80,000 rabid fans. The one knock against the trade thus far is that Cristiano has yet to lead Real to a major title, though, with Jose Mourinho at the helm, Kaka and Xabi Alonso in the midfield, Karim Benzema up front and Iker Casillas in goal, that issue should be corrected sooner rather than later.
NFL: John Elway to The Denver Broncos

Cristiano Ronaldo would be lucky if his legacy in Madrid were to ever come close to that of John Elway in Denver. Like Eli Manning 21 years later, Elway was taken first overall in the 1983 NFL Draft, but threatened to play professional baseball if the Baltimore Colts, who owned the pick, didn’t trade him elsewhere. As such, the Colts traded Elway to the Broncos, with whom he had a legendary career, with highlights like “The Drive” and a showdown with Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIV, capped by back-to-back Super Bowl wins in 1998 and 1999. For those accomplishments, Elway will forever be a football god in Denver and the face of the Broncos franchise.
NFL: The Herschel Walker Trade

HWT, otherwise known as the Herschel Walker Trade, was arguably the most consequential deal in NFL history, at least among those involving players and draft picks. And, boy, were there plenty of those involved. To get the two-time All-Pro and former USFL star, the Minnesota Vikings sent five players and six draft picks to the Dallas Cowboys in a trade that is as much praised in Texas as the reason for the rise of the Cowboys as it is reviled in Minnesota for the demise of the Vikings. Most notably, the Cowboys turned one of those picks into Emmitt Smith, who, along with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, helped build Dallas into a dynasty in the 1990s on the way to becoming the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
NHL: Wayne Gretzky Traded To LA

While the HWT forever changed the future of two teams, “The Trade”, as it’s known, changed the tenor of an entire league. In the offseason after leading the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup championship for the fourth time in his ten years with the team, Wayne Gretzky was traded, with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Martin Gelinas, Jimmy Carson, three draft picks and $15 million. North of the border, the move resulted in a national uproar, with some in the national government calling for it to be blocked by law and people all over Canada calling Gretzky a traitor for allegedly forcing a trade to benefit his wife’s acting career. Back in the US, the arrival of “The Great One” in LA signaled a shift change in the NHL, with the league awarding teams to two more cities in California–Anaheim and San Jose–while seeing several other franchises in Canada and the Northeast move their operations to the Sun Belt. Thus, even though Gretzky never brought a title to LA, despite coming close in 1990, his move literally expanded hockey from a regional pastime to a sport with national appeal in the US.
MLB: Babe Ruth to The New York Yankees

Is there any move more infamous in American sports than the one that brought “The Babe” to New York? On Dec. 26, 1919, a day that will forever live in infamy in Boston, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold George Herman Ruth Jr. to the then-abysmal New York Yankees for cash. Some say Frazee made the deal to fund his other business ventures, namely the staging of No, No, Nanette on Broadway. Others contend that Frazee sold the “Sultan of Swat” after Ruth demanded that Frazee double his salary. Either way, Ruth went on to win four World Series titles in New York after earning three with the Red Sox. He became the most iconic athlete in the history of American sports, casting a curse on Boston that lasted until 2004.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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