- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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Ozzie and Dan Silna made the best business deal of all time. In 1976, when it was clear that the NBA was not going to take their Spirits of St. Louis into the league as part of the ABA merger, the two negotiated to get 1/7th of the television money of the four teams that were going into the league (the Nuggets, Spurs, Nets and Pacers) in perpetuity.
The New York Times reports on Friday that the Silnas' take is up to $255 million and rising. Based on television money coming into the league, I projected that the two would make $320 million by the end of the 2015-16 season. But the Times reports that the brothers went to court on Thursday to get what they think is their fair share of international television money and other revenues.
So, you're probably wondering, how did this deal ever go down in the first place?
Well, it starts with the fact that the ABA teams going in had to buy out the two teams that weren't going in -- the Kentucky Colonels and the Spirits of St. Louis.
Colonels owner John Y. Brown was an easy customer.
"They asked me, ‘What do you want?’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you think is fair?’" Brown recalled to me in 2007. "And they said, ‘Would you take $2 million?’ And I said I would. Four hours later, after the Silnas went into the room, it became $3.3 million."
The Silnas asked for 1/7th of the television revenue of the teams going in perpetuity and $2.2 million. That means that the owners valued the TV rights of those teams as being a combined $1 million for the life of the NBA.
"NBA television was modest at best," former Nuggets general manager Carl Scheer told me. "In fact, the Finals were delayed and were not shown live in the late '70s. There were those who understood what the future might bring for the NBA, but most so-called experts thought that pro basketball had a very modest future."
Scheer said that if they didn't do the deal with the Silnas, it was possible the deal with the NBA would be off.
"If we didn't agree to that, I was convinced they would take us all down," Scheer said.
As for Brown, whose $3.3 million today looks paltry in comparison to what the Silnas made off with, he says "there's the truth and then there's the real truth."
Said Brown to me five years ago: "The truth of the matter is, it’s about the biggest hold-up I’ve ever seen in business. It was highly unethical."