ABA Rumors

For the Wednesday Oklahoman, I wrote about David Vance and the birth of the blocked shot as an official statistic. You can read that column here. But the occasion gave Vance and I reason to look at all kinds of great memories about the ABA. The American Basketball Association spent nine years as an upstart league before finally merging with the NBA in 1976. Merge is not really accurate. The NBA absorbed four ABA franchises; 10 started that 1975-76 season. Three folded before the year was over, and three didn’t make the cut.
Talking with Vance was a great step back in time. A few of the nuggets: * Vance walked out of Will Ferrell’s movie, “Semi-Pro,” which loosely was based on the ABA. It was mostly hijinks and no crowds. “The ABA wasn’t like that,” Vance said. “It was the day of the Afro and those big high-rise shoes and fur coats. All that went with the image. Everyone assumed we played street ball. That offended me a little bit.” * I remember Louie Dampier, the great shooter from the University of Kentucky, who was with Vance’s Kentucky Colonels. Vance told the story of an exhibition game in Owensboro, Ky., where the 3-point line had to be manually placed on the court, since only the ABA was using the arc at the time. Dampier walked into the arena before the game, still in street clothes, holding his satchel, and walked to the 3-point line. He looked at the basket and said, “It’s off.” Game officials proceeded to measure the 3-point line. It was an inch off. “That’s a shooter’s mentality,” Vance said.
The NBA tried, on a few occasions, to work out a deal with the Silnas. There were a few times when the league believed it was close to resolving the issue. At one point, the Silnas were part of a group trying to buy the then-New Jersey Nets, and would have had to obviously give up the Spirits deal as a condition of ownership. In 2007, there were “very serious negotiations,” according to a source, between the league and the brothers, and a proposed deal was basically done and ready. And then, the worldwide recession kicked in full, and the deal’s proposed financing fell apart.
On Tuesday, the Silnas, the league and the four former A.B.A. teams will announce a conditional deal that will end the Silnas’ golden annuity. Almost. The Silnas are to receive a $500 million upfront payment, financed through a private placement of notes by JPMorgan Chase and Merrill Lynch, according to three people with direct knowledge of the agreement. The deal would end the enormous perpetual payments and settle a lawsuit filed in federal court by the Silnas that demanded additional compensation from sources of television revenue that did not exist in 1976, including NBA TV, foreign broadcasting of games and League Pass, the service that lets fans watch out-of-market games.
The N.B.A. has long hoped to be released from its financial obligation to Ozzie and Daniel Silna, brothers who owned the Spirits of St. Louis in the defunct American Basketball Association. But it has never been easy. The Spirits were excluded from the 1976 merger of the two leagues. So the Silnas watched unhappily as the New York (now Brooklyn) Nets, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs were absorbed into the N.B.A. But the Silnas negotiated an astonishing benefit that was critical to the merger: an agreement to be paid one-seventh of the national television revenue that each of the four teams was to receive, as long as the league continued to exist. That amounted to being paid in perpetuity, and so far, the deal has provided the Silnas with about $300 million.