Silna Brothers Legacy
The NBA is a cash cow. Want evidence? James Harden turned down $103 million this week to sign a two-year contract extension with the Houston Rockets. Everybody makes F-You money in the NBA. That wouldn't be happening if the league wasn't swimming in dough. But harken back to the 1970s when the league took it on the chin in one of the shrewdest deals in sports history. Even the Yankees' deal with the Red Sox for Babe Ruth pales in comparison.
The Silna brothers, Ozzie and Daniel, were living large from their polyester business Remember, we're talking the 1970s here. Polyester was king! Flush with cash, the Brothers Silna wanted to join the NBA, prompting a failed bid to buy the Detroit Pistons.
Had NBA owners been able to see the future, they likely would have intervened to make sure that the Brothers Silna became owners of the Pistons. Such a transaction would have spared a future financial drain of epic proportions.
After striking out with the NBA, the Brothers Silna paid $1 million to purchase the Carolina Cougars of the rival American Basketball Association. They moved the team to St. Louis, where they became the Spirits of St. Louis. The team was popular and it won. But the ABA ceased to exist when the ABA and NBA merged in 1976. The NBA to cherry picked the teams they wanted to join their league. The Spirits were not one of the four team’s selected.
Alas, sometimes it’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you make a deal to win or lose. You could say the Brothers Silna managed to cut their losses.
The NBA selected the Denver Nuggets, Indian Pacers, San Antonio Spurs and New York Nets (Now Brooklyn Nets) to join the league. Left out in the cold were the other two remaining ABA teams, the Kentucky Colonels and St. Louis (Note. Only six ABA teams were still in business at the time of the merger. Other teams had folded earlier.)
The ABA needed Kentucky and St. Louis to fold to complete the merger. Kentucky accepted compensation of $3.3 million. St. Louis did not.
If the Spirits did not fold, the merger was off. Understanding their position, the Brothers Silna came up with an alternative plan. In return for folding their team, they negotiated a deal to pay them four-sevenths of one share of the NBA’s annual TV revenue for as long as the NBA stayed in business.
Once Bird and Magic joined the NBA, the league's popularity grew and the deal cut by the Brothers Silna exploded. The defunct Spirits of St. Louis became an oil-producing well that never went dry.
By 2014, the deal had paid the Brothers Silna $300 million. At that point, the NBA said "no mas" and stroked a $500 million check to buy out the Brothers Silna.
Not a bad return on investment. That’s tall cotton, uh, polyester.
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