Ozzie Silna

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Ozzie Silna (born December 28, 1932[citation needed]) is an American businessman best known for his success in the textile industry, as co-owner of the American Basketball Association's Spirits of St. Louis and the lucrative deal cut to fold that team during the ABA-NBA merger.

Brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna made a fortune as pioneers in the manufacture of polyester. In 1974, they wanted to own an NBA team. After an attempt to buy the Detroit Pistons fell short, the Silnas purchased the ABA's Carolina Cougars franchise with the expectation of moving it into the NBA with the impending merger of the two leagues.[1][2]

The Spirits of St. Louis[edit]

The Silna brothers moved the Cougars to St. Louis, Missouri, because it was then the largest city in the United States without a professional basketball team and they thought this would make their team more likely to join the NBA. In 1974, the Cougars, roster and all, were overhauled and became the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis from 1974 through 1976.[1] The 1974-75 Spirits had upset the reigning ABA champion New York Nets in the 1975 Eastern Division Finals before losing to the eventual champion Kentucky Colonels, but in the 1975-76 season the Spirits' play was uneven and their attendance waned.[2][3]

The Spirits' 1975-76 season was not a success either on the court or at the box office.[2][4] In May 1976, due to attendance problems in St. Louis, the Spirits announced that they were going to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, to play as the Utah Rockies when a lease agreement for the Salt Palace was arranged.[2] This followed an attempted merger of the Spirits and the Utah Stars franchise during the 1975-76 season, a merger that, had it occurred, contemplated the team leaving St. Louis for Utah.[2][5] But the Stars folded before the merger could occur and instead, the Spirits bought the rights to some of the Stars' best players, including future Hall of Famer Moses Malone.[2][5] In another effort to be included in the ABA-NBA merger, the Silna brothers proposed selling the Spirits to a Utah group, buying the Kentucky Colonels franchise, and moving the Colonels to Buffalo to replace the Buffalo Braves, who were then planning to move to Hollywood, Florida.[6]

The deal[edit]

The Spirits were not included in the merger, but the Silna brothers nonetheless managed to turn it into one of the greatest deals in the history of professional sports.[7][8] In June 1976, the remaining ABA owners agreed, in return for the Spirits folding, to pay the St. Louis owners $2.2 million in cash up front in addition to a 1/7 share of the four remaining teams' television revenues in perpetuity.[2][9] As the NBA's popularity exploded in 1980s and 1990s, the league's television rights were sold to CBS and then NBC, and additional deals were struck with the TNT and TBS cable networks; league television revenue soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Over the past 30-plus years, the Silnas have collected over $200 million from the NBA, despite the fact that the Spirits never played an NBA game. The Silnas continue to receive checks from the NBA on a yearly basis, representing slightly more than a 4/7 share of the television money that would normally go to any NBA franchise, or roughly two percent of the entire league's TV money.[2][10][11]

Thanks to their deal during the ABA-NBA merger the Silnas made millions through 1980s and at least $4.4 million per year through 1990s.[10] From 1999 through 2002 the deal netted the Spirits' owners at least $12.53 million per year; from 2003-2006 their take was at least $15.6 million per year.[7] The two Silna brothers each get 45% of that television revenue per year and their attorney during the merger negotiations, Donald Schupak, receives 10%.[7] They credit their terrific deal to planning they had done ahead of the merger for the Virginia Squires owners; the Silnas had expected the Spirits and Colonels to enter the NBA but for the ailing Squires to be left out, and the Silnas thought up the television revenue deal as a way to treat the Squires' owners fairly if the Squires did not join the NBA with the other ABA teams.[7] The Silna brothers have received over $255 million in NBA television revenue as of 2012.[12] With New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson purchasing the New Orleans Hornets from the NBA in 2012 and planning to rename the team, there had been talk that the NBA might negotiate a deal to end the TV deals for the Silna brothers in exchange for rights to the Spirits name.[13] This ended up not happening, as the Hornets were renamed the Pelicans.

Spirits R.I.P.[edit]

The ABA–NBA merger terms included the St. Louis (and Kentucky) players being put into a special dispersal draft. Marvin Barnes went to the Detroit Pistons for $500,000, Moses Malone went to the Portland Trail Blazers for $300,000, Ron Boone went to the Kansas City Kings for $250,000, Randy Denton went to the New York Knicks for $50,000 and Mike Barr also went to the Kansas City, for $15,000.[6][14]

The folding of the Spirits dissolved a very talented basketball team, one that likely would have competed successfully in the NBA. Twelve players from the final two Spirits of St. Louis rosters (1974–76) played in the NBA during the 1976–77 season and beyond: Maurice Lucas, Ron Boone, Marvin Barnes, Caldwell Jones, Lonnie Shelton, Steve Green, Gus Gerard, Moses Malone, Don Adams, Don Chaney, M. L. Carr and Freddie Lewis.[15] However, the deal cut by the Silna brothers and the incredible amount of revenue it has produced over the years has itself become legend.[7]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pluto, Terry (1990), Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, Simon & Schuster, pp. 349–351, ISBN 978-1-4165-4061-8 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Spirits of St. Louis. - RememberTheABA.com.
  3. ^ Pluto. - pp.387-388.
  4. ^ Pluto. - pp.372-390,427,429.
  5. ^ a b Pluto. - pp.386-387.
  6. ^ a b Spirits of St. Louis Detailed Year to Year Notes. - RememberTheABA.com.
    Archived 5 October 2009 at WebCite
  7. ^ a b c d e Pells, Eddie (May 27, 2006), "Enterprising Brothers Converted NBA Buyout Of ABA Team Into Multimillion-Dollar Windfall", Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Associated Press) 
  8. ^ Pluto. - pp.431-433.
  9. ^ Pluto. - pp.428-433.
  10. ^ a b Pluto. - p.433.
  11. ^ The deal called for the Silnas to receive a 1/7 share of the TV revenues from each of the four ABA teams that joined the NBA. However, they also inserted a clause in the contract stipulating that their share could not drop below the amount generated from a 28-team league. Since the NBA now has 30 teams, each of the former ABA teams must pay the Silnas a 1/196 share (1/7 of 1/28) of league TV revenues, instead of 1/210 (1/7 of 1/30). This translates to a 1/49 share for the Silnas.
  12. ^ Sandomir, Richard (September 6, 2012). "No Team, No Ticket Sales, but Plenty of Cash: Former A.B.A. Owners Ozzie and Daniel Silna Earn Millions From N.B.A.". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ http://www.hornets247.com/blog/2012/05/03/angels-and-spirit-are-the-two-leading-names-for-a-hornets-rebrand/
  14. ^ Pluto. - p.435.
  15. ^ Pluto. - pp.388-389.

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