Niagara Gazette

Sports

November 15, 2013

LINDLEY: Long-gone ABA leaving costly legacy

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — It wasn’t expected to be a windfall because the NBA wasn’t a big TV draw. In 1980-81, brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna collected about $500,000, The New York Times reported.

There was another aspect of the deal, however, that was much sweeter. The Silnas were to receive a share of the annual TV revenue in perpetuity. As the NBA’s TV rights began to grow, so did payouts to the Silnas. The brothers, who had bought into the ABA for $1 million, collected $19 million last year, ESPN reported, bringing their total haul to some $300 million.

The long-ago agreement has been called “the greatest sports business deal of all time.”

The NBA is now a big, big business that attracts a worldwide audience. The popularity of the game - with superstars such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant - coupled with technology that beams games into any hamlet on the globe leaves open the possibility of untold wealth. In 2012, the NBA signed a TV deal with ESPN and TNT worth $7.4 billion over eight years.

Realizing the error of its ways, the NBA now would like to end the lucrative arrangement with the Silnas. The brothers have other feelings. The Silnas think they are also entitled to Internet, cable and international TV rights, plus whatever else falls under the large media umbrella. Armed with lawyers, they went to federal court in New York last year to plead their case.

What once was a nuisance, and then an embarrassment to the NBA, has turned into a fight over a king’s ransom. All the while, the Silnas cling to their signed agreement. The only questions that remain for them are, “How much and for how long?”

For guys who haven’t had to deal with players with huge egos, fickle fans or renting a state-of-the-art arena, the Silnas have enjoyed a life in pro sports that few could imagine.

The ABA existed for less than 10 years. Yet, thanks to some smart lawyers, the Silnas stand to continue their winning streak for as long as they desire.

Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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