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The 70s even had pro hoops in STL

28 September 2010 No Comment

The last time that St. Louis had a real professional basketball team was in 1976. What a Leap Year it was! Bob Costas made his broadcasting debut in STL, the Spirits of St. Louis put their unique stamp on pro hoops history before the ABA-NBA merger, Star Wars came out, the Olympics went down in Canada, we had Jimmy Carter and Patti Hearst in the news, The Last Waltz went down, punk rock was emerging, … the beginning of Apple … and my wife was born.

A really, really, really good year!

I am infatuated with the 70s, on many different levels. But my recent St. Louis radio show foray into the ABA and the Spirits of St. Louis has renewed this interest of mine. The ABA stories are riveting, quirky and relevant. STL’s team featured a cast of legends, yet in the end kind of whimpered out of town after the 1976 season. I’d love nothing more than to be able to go back experience those ABA days – kind of how I feel like about missing so many legendary Grateful Dead 70s and 80s concerts. Seeing those burnt orange, silver & black jersey at The Checkerdome would have rocked.

I’m just old enough to recall the 70s, but the decade concluded with me at just 6.5 years old and full of innocence. I do really appreciate all of the ABA and Spirits information provided at remembertheaba.com. This allows us to piece together the basketball puzzle that breezed through our city in the mid-70s.

To hear about what the crazy scene was like when the ABA was in St. Louis, you can listen to my interview with ex-ABA and NBA player Ron Boone right here.

Then, there is this great story: In 1974, the Carolina Cougars ABA franchise was purchased for $1.5 million by Daniel Silna and Ozzie Silna. The franchise moved to St. Louis and became the Spirits of St. Louis.

As I detailed on the radio show, this team was unpredictable yet armed with an abundance of talent. Marvin Barnes had several games of either 50+ points and/or 25+ rebounds. Early in Barnes’ rookie year with St. Louis, he bolted the Spirits and attempted to renegotiate his contract. Eventually, he was found in a bar/pool hall in Dayton, Ohio. Eventually, substance abuse and poor decisions led to his hoops demise.

In 1976, attendance was poor despite teams like New York (with Dr. J) and Denver (with rookie sensation David Thompson). In a convoluted series of dealings, the Spirits folded in 1976. In return for folding their team, the Spirits’ owners, Ozzie and Dan Silna, reached a famous agreement with the other remaining ABA owners. They obtained the rights to 1/7th of ALL future television money received by the surviving ABA teams (Denver, Indiana, New York and San Antonio) — in perpetuity. Basically, for as long as the NBA existed. It’s one of the most incredible things to ever occur in sports.

In the late 70s, the NBA’s contract with CBS was very little. But as the NBA’s popularity exploded in the 80s and 90s, the league’s television rights were sold to CBS (and then NBC), plus the TNT and TBS cable networks, for hundreds of millions of dollars. So …. over the past 25 years, the Silnas have collected approximately $100 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 a 4/7 share of the television money that would normally go to any NBA franchise. Just amazing.

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