Folks of a certain age from around these parts (Piedmont Triad of North Carolina) might remember the Carolina Cougars of the old American Basketball Association. The Cougars were based in Greensboro until 1974 when they were purchased by Ozzie and Daniel Silna, moved to St. Louis and renamed the Spirit. That's when this story starts to get really interesting:
Four of the A.B.A.’s seven teams merged with the N.B.A. in 1976, but the Virginia Squires were a financial wreck and the Kentucky Colonels were placated with a $3.3 million payment. But if the Spirits couldn’t join the N.B.A., the Silna brothers wanted to share in what the A.B.A. didn’t have: national TV revenue. They settled with one-seventh of the television money generated annually by each of the four surviving A.B.A. teams — the Nets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers and the Denver Nuggets…
In 1980-81, the first year the Silnas were eligible to get their share of TV money, they received $521,749, according to court documents filed by the N.B.A. For the 2010-11 season, they received $17,450,000. The N.B.A.’s latest TV deal, with ESPN and TNT, is worth $7.4 billion over eight years. Soon, the Silnas’ total take will hit $300 million.
That's what you might call a heckuva deal, but the brothers are looking to maximize it:
In Manhattan federal court on Thursday, lawyers for the Silna brothers and the league argued over whether the men are owed money beyond what they get from the N.B.A.’s national broadcast and cable television contracts. They want to tap into the money the league gets from international broadcasts, NBA TV, the league’s cable network, and other lucrative deals that could not have been imagined in the three network television universe of 1976.
If Federal District Judge Loretta A. Preska agrees, the Silna brothers — Ozzie, 79, and living in Malibu, Calif., and Daniel, 68, and living in Saddle River, N.J. — stand to receive millions more, all without having assembled a team or used an arena for more than three decades.
As the article pointed out the brothers' original investment in a struggling team in a struggling league was quite risky, but it's hard to imagine that they imagined it would pay off to this extent.