I first became aware of this story many years ago, as relayed in “Loose Balls”, Terry Pluto’s wonderful oral history of the American Basketball association (see below).
No Team, No Ticket Sales, but Plenty of Cash; Former A.B.A. Owners Ozzie and Daniel Silna Earn Millions From N.B.A., Richard Sandomir (New York Times)
For years, it was an underappreciated wrinkle in the historic deal that merged the established National Basketball Association and the upstart American Basketball Association in 1976. The owners of the Spirits of St. Louis agreed to be paid a small fraction of the N.B.A.’s television money to comfort them for being cut out of joining the older league.
Their piece amounted to a sliver of the modest amount that CBS was paying the N.B.A. in those days. But if the share was small then, one particular term of the arrangement was attractive: the owners, Ozzie and Daniel Silna, would be paid the money every year in perpetuity, or as long as the N.B.A. existed.
The Spirits became a distant memory, even for people in St. Louis. But the N.B.A. has continued to exist quite nicely, meaning the Silnas’ haul has been substantial: $255 million and counting. But as sweet as the deal has been, the Silnas want more, and they have gone to court to get it.
“Loose Balls” remains essential reading.
Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association is a sports book originally published in 1990 by Simon and Schuster. The book, a history of the original American Basketball Association, was written by sportswriter Terry Pluto, although much of his writing is limited to introductions and summaries of each season. Most of the dialogue is from former players, league executives, and journalists, among others.