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  • Bill Chastain

TOYS AND GAMES: Tall Polyester

Ozzie Silna died last week, leaving behind a legacy for being the guy who made one of the shrewdest deals in sports history. Even the Yankees deal with the Red Sox for Babe Ruth pales in comparison.

Flash back to the 1970s when the Silna brothers, Ozzie and Daniel, were living large from their polyester business. Flush with cash, they decided they wanted to join the NBA, prompting them to make a failed bid at buying the Detroit Pistons.

Had the NBA been able to see the future, the owners would likely have intervened to see that the Brothers Silna got the Pistons rather than have seen their story play out as it did.

They ended up buying the American Basketball Association’s St. Louis Spirits, turning the team into a popular and winning product. But the ABA ceased to exist when the ABA and NBA merged in 1976, leaving the NBA to grab 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.

In return for folding their team, the Brothers Silna negotiated a deal with the NBA to pay them four-sevenths of one share of the NBA’s annual TV revenue for as long as the NBA was around.

Initially, the deal proved profitable. Once Bird and Magic joined the league and its popularity grew, the deal exploded, turning the defunct Spirits into a cash cow. For over four decades the deal has performed like an oil-producing well that keeps on flowing. Forbes magazine estimates the yield to be approximately $300 million.

That’s tall cotton, uh, polyester.

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