NBA Still Paying Owners Of Defunct ABA Team

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The ABA team, the Spirits of St. Louis, play the NBA's New York Nets in 1975. (AP)
The Spirits of St. Louis, shown here facing the New York Nets in 1975, are long gone, but still quite profitable for their former owners. (AP)

Daniel and Ozzie Silna, brothers who were in polyester manufacturing, bought an American Basketball Association team in 1974. They moved the Carolina Cougars to Missouri, where it became the Spirits of St. Louis.

For two years, the Silnas supported an ABA-NBA merger, but when it became a reality in 1976, St. Louis was left off the list of teams to make the transition.

“They wanted to merge with the NBA: the rebel league with the established league,” said Richard Sandomir of the New York Times. “The established league had the TV deal, and that’s what they coveted.”

When they found out their team would be left out of the merger, the Silnas didn't settle for a buyout. They wanted a piece of the television revenue from the ABA teams that joined the new league.

"They went about negotiating a way to reap the benefits of being a team--without being a team," Sandomir said during an interview with Only A Game. "They crafted a deal, and they out-negotiated virtually every NBA lawyer in existence."

The Silnas secured one-seventh of the television revenues from the four ABA teams that joined the NBA.  The first payment in 1980 amounted to $500,000. Today, the Silnas’ yearly income is about $30 million.

The NBA tried to buy out the brothers in the 1980s and '90s, to no avail.

“I can’t imagine that there is a better deal for putting no money in,” said Sandomir.

To date the Silnas have received about $255 million, but the brothers want more money from a larger pool. They believe their original contract entitles them to revenues from international coverage and from the league's own television network. The NBA does not agree.

“Now, in court last week, the federal judge suggested they try to settle their claims,” said Sandomir. “I don’t know what the incentive beyond a huge lump sum would be for the Silnas to settle.”

This segment aired on September 15, 2012.


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