Multimillionaire Ozzie Silna, one of the architects of arguably the best sports deal ever negotiated 40 years ago during his co-ownership of a struggling American Basketball Association team, has died. He was 83.
His family said he died Tuesday in Los Angeles after a battle with cancer.
Silna and his brother, Dan, were the former owners of an old ABA franchise known as the Spirits of St. Louis. When the ABA merged with the NBA after the 1975-76 season, the Silnas agreed to dissolve their team in exchange for a small percentage of the NBA's future broadcast revenue.
At the time, it seemed like an irrelevant concession by the league. But it became a legendary coup and financial windfall for the Silnas. They negotiated to receive one-seventh of a share of the annual television revenues for as long as the NBA was around for the four of six remaining ABA teams that were absorbed: the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs. The Spirits and Kentucky Colonels were not accepted into the league.
Colonels owner John Y. Brown received a $3 million payoff from the remaining ABA teams.
The brothers weren't willing to go away that easily.
"Logic was that you take six of the seven A.B.A. teams and make the N.B.A. a 24-team league," Daniel Silna told The New York Times on Tuesday. "It would make scheduling easier. So Ozzie said, 'Look, if one of the seven does not get taken into the league, they're still our partners, so we should give them one-seventh of our TV revenues going forward.' "
The Times calculates that the brothers collected about $750 million since the merger, an amount that has consistently grown mightily through investments. This includes $500 million the brothers received in 2014 as part of a deal the NBA and the four teams reached to minimize future financial exposure ahead of the nine-year, $24 billion TV deal announced later that year by investing in the Spirits' entity in exchange for an accelerated up-front payment.
The agreement resulted in the Silnas dropping a lawsuit they filed in federal district court against the league and the teams in hopes of collecting on new revenue streams, like NBA League Pass and foreign TV deals, which obviously were not envisioned in the original agreement.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement later Tuesday.
"We were deeply saddened to learn that former ABA team owner Ozzie Silna has passed away," Silver said. "Ozzie and his brother Dan owned the St. Louis Spirits at a time when the ABA's future was uncertain, but he loved the game and was determined to be part of professional basketball. We send our heartfelt condolences to Dan and the entire Silna family."
While he didn't believe he pulled off the greatest deal in the history of American sports, Ozzie Silna did concede in 2006 to knowing that back in the '70s, the NBA's TV deal was vastly undervalued.
"We saw some room for growth there," he said. "We had no idea it would grow this much."
Information from ESPN's Darren Rovell, Chris Broussard and The Associated Press was used in this report.