It’s hard to imagine any of the major American sports teams on the bad side of a business deal. However for the last 37 years that has been the case for the NBA. In 1976, Ozzie and Daniel Silna two former owners of the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis struck a deal that to this day has been a thorn in the side of the NBA.
The Silna brothers in the mid 1970s were looking to buy an NBA franchise, but there hopes fell short. The brothers next turned to the ABA in hopes that purchasing a team in the league would help make it easier to be part of the NBA, as an ABA-NBA merger was imminent.
Once the ABA disbanded after the merger, the Silna brothers revenge or business savvy began. First, the remaining owners of the ABA paid $2.2 million in cash to the brothers for the Spirits folding. But it is what happened next that truly makes this the “greatest sports business deal of all time”
Rather than collect a large lump sum from the NBA. Ozzie and Daniel decided to take a 14 percent share of TV revenue for the four ABA teams that joined the NBA (Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, and San Antonio Spurs).
In 1976 no one, not even the NBA itself could predict that it would become a multi-billion dollar industry. In the NBA’s defense, championship games weren’t on prime-time and still on tape delay. What made the deal an even bigger gamble is that all the teams were small market teams until recently (Brooklyn Nets were the New Jersey Nets until 2012-2013 season). Though the Pacers and more so the Spurs have had postseason success. The uncertainty of these teams in 1976 was a risk not too many would have been willing to take.
Luckily for the Silna brothers their gamble turned out to be one of the most lucrative in sports history.