By Pat McGonigle
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - It is the deal that is often referred to as "the greatest contract in sports history."
The fledgling American Basketball Association (ABA) was on life support back in 1976. Empty arenas and poor TV ratings spelled doom for the league trying to compete with the NBA. It also meant the end for the Spirits of St. Louis, our city's representative in the ABA.
PART 1: Spirits of St. Louis still rake in millions?
Four of the most successful ABA franchises made the leap to the NBA: The San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers, The Denver Nuggets, and The New Jersey Nets. The remaining ABA teams, like the Kentucky Colonels and the Virginia Squires, received a cash settlement from the NBA to fold.
The owners of the Spirits of St. Louis, Ozzie and Daniel Silna, had a better idea. The Silnas requested 1/7 of the NBA TV revenue the Nuggets, the Nets, the Spurs, and the Pacers received. If you do the math, that works out to 4/7 of what every NBA team receives in television money. When the deal was made that was worth about $10,000. In today's dollars, that works out to about $17 million per year.
Most estimates put the total sum the Silnas have received from the NBA since 1976 at $255 million.
"That was a good deal," laughs St. Louis resident Barbara Davis.
It gets even better.
According to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, the Silnas are now suing for even more. The Silnas are suing the NBA to get a share of revenue sources that didn't exist in 1976, things like the internet, cable broadcasts and NBA Europe.
"This issue has been a nuisance as long as I've been associated with the league," said Ed Desser, the former president of NBA Television told the New York Times. "It was never enough to be a serious distraction. It's one of those accidents of history."
"Show St. Louis some of that money," says longtime Spirits fan Charles Francis.
Since the private deal between the Spirits and the NBA never involved the City of St. Louis, experts say it's unlikely the massive cash windfall will ever be shared.
The NBA declined to comment for this story citing ongoing litigation with the Silna brothers.
NewsChannel 5 spoke to Daniel Silna off camera, and he also declined to discuss the terms of his financial relationship with the NBA.
Silna, who lives in New Jersey now, did have nice things to say about his time in St. Louis.
"People there love the Cardinals and that zoo" Silna joked. "We couldn't quite get them to come out for pro basketball."
Silna recalled meeting a season ticket holder for the Spirits of St. Louis one time.
"So you were one of the five," Silna laughed.