What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films, largely because it’s not a movie at all. It’s an episode from the second season of my favorite television show ever.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Eighth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Thanks to his devising and hosting this event, I get another opportunity to write about my favorite show.
You can see all the contributions to this blog-a-thon here:
This episode opens with Tom Correll (played by Al Ruscio) puffing a cigar and watching basketball game film like a coach would. By his commentary, it’s clear he is in the market to acquire a basketball team. As the credits roll, the scene cuts to an alley where Marcus Hayes (played by Lou Gossett, Jr.) is tossed out of a car by two goons named Greg and Manny (played by Pepper Martin and Rickard “Dick” Davalos respectively). The hired muscle believe Hayes is somehow involved in the negotiations to bring a professional basketball franchise to Santa Monica; instead Hays tells them he is a parole officer investigating a former player named Terry Schnieder in his charge who was involved in a point-shaving scheme. Seeing his badge convinces the goons he’s telling the truth and they leave.
The next morning. Hayes shows up on the doorstep of one of his former parolees, our very own private investigator Jim Rockford (played by James Garner). Rockford is less than enthusiastic to see Hayes since he previously violated Rockford’s parole. It isn’t until Hayes convinces Rockford over breakfast to help Schnieder…especially after Hayes flashes some cash and agrees to pay Rockford’s standard two hundred dollars a day plus expenses.
Rockford agrees to place an electronic tracking device on Greg the Goon’s car in order to begin some surveillance. But while he’s doing that, Hayes dimes him out to the bad guys using a “Stepin Fetchit” routine guaranteed to make those of you who are sensitive to the portrayal of racial stereotypes have a genuine “cringe” moment.
As a result, Rockford ends up in a showdown with Greg and Manny, who don’t buy his routine of being a “smog inspector.” Rockford then gets the “alley” routine just like Hayes did,. However, our parole officer shows up and saves Rockford from getting himself re-arranged, but leaves him in the alley after Greg and Manny make their escape. Hayes follows the goons to what appears to be a gated, palatial “Beverly Hills” type address.
Now that he smells multiple rats, the following morning Rockford heads down to the parole office where he discovers Hayes hasn’t been employed there in at least three years. Rockford finds out from another parole officer Hayes was fired some time ago for reasons he won’t disclose. Better yet, he finds out Hayes has changed his name to “O’Brien” and has become a “sleaze;” parole office parlance for a private investigator.
Rockford then goes to “O’Brien’s” office looking for the truth. Hayes/O’Brien thinks he can con Rockford again, until he catches a couple of solid punches in the mouth. Rockford then takes him for the proverbial “ride” in Hayes limousine. Hayes/O’Brien tells Rockford the league is in the process of awarding a new professional basketball franchise to Santa Monica, and there are three men in the running to own it.
One is the aforementioned Tom Correll, who Rockford describes as “shady, but just clean enough to qualify.” Hayes/O’Brien claims to be working for the second guy, a man named Martin Eastman (played by David White). The third candidate is never seen and barely mentioned again; somebody named Mintier.
The story shakes down to this. Commissioner Tremayne (played by Chuck Bowman) is about to announce who will be awarded the sure-to-be-lucrative franchise. Hayes/O’Brien claims to be working for Eastman, which after various shenanigans and the obligatory Rockford Files car chase (including sequences shot in scenic Griffith Park), Rockford discovers is not true.
At this point, not only does Rockford discover Hayes/O’Brien is even more of a liar than he already suspected…he’s also flat broke. Worse yet, Rockford later confirms Hayes/O’Brien’s story about working for Eastman is not only crap, but by meeting with him, he is offered employment (sweetened with the promise of a $20,000 bonus) in an attempt to get the franchise awarded to Eastman.
Now, looking for any way to salvage an opportunity to get paid, Rockford agrees. But later upon arriving at Commissioner Tremayne’s home, Rockford corrals Hayes/O’Brien fleeing the scene. Together, Rockford and Hayes/O’Brien find Tremayne’s body. Rockford then forces Hayes/O’Brien to spill his guts about what is really happening. He admits he knew the goons Greg and Manny were working for Tom Correll, that he was actually hired by Tremanye to discover the source of threats being made against him.
Of course, Rockford doesn’t believe this either. Knowing what he now knows, Rockford forces Hayes/O’Brien into being “the bait in a rat trap.” Rockford’s theory is Tremayne was taking a bribe to award the franchise; the idea being the briber will turn up to be the killer to keep the deal quiet.
As this is a series based on the smarts of it’s title character, Rockford is right. The briber is the one who shows up…the problem is it isn’t the guy Rockford thinks it will be.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
It’s no accident that I picked a basketball-themed episode since we are in the midst of “March Madness.” Basketball rules the sports world in March, so it only makes sense that today’s sports analogy should come from that sport.
As was shown in this episode of The Rockford Files, a professional basketball franchise can be quite valuable; that’s why rich guys will engage in plenty of shenanigans to own one. Not to mention, in sports-crazed America, team owners enjoy an elevated status usually reserved for the likes of governors and senators.
Here’s where we pick up the story of Ozzie and Daniel Silna. The brothers were kings of the American textile industry; they amassed a fortune when they revolutionized the manufacture of polyester. But being clothing magnates wasn’t enough for the Silnas. By 1974, the brothers had a hankering to own a basketball team.
Originally, they made a bid to purchase the Detroit Pistons of the National Basketball Association (NBA). This never came to fruition, but luckily for the Silna brothers, at the time there were two professional basketball leagues in the United States. The American Basketball Association (ABA) was always on the hunt for new money; the Silna brothers were welcomed with open arms when they made an offer to purchase the ABA’s Carolina Cougars for $1 million.
First of all, keep that number in mind; it will be important later. Second, don’t forget that of the two leagues, the NBA was the older, established league; the ABA was the newer upstart. But by the mid-1970s, both leagues were having money problems, which is why rumors were circulating the two league were going to merge. That was the bet the Silna brothers were taking; they would eventually become members of the NBA by owning an ABA team, then waiting for the two leagues to become one.
Upon taking control of the Carolina Cougars, the first thing the Silna brothers did was move the team to St. Louis. They rebranded the Cougars as the Spirits of St. Louis. The “Gateway City” was the largest metropolitan area in the United States which did not have a professional basketball franchise since the St. Louis Hawks moved to Atlanta nearly twenty years earlier.
They also tied the team to one of the city’s largest historical icons by naming the team after the aircraft Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in 1928. On top of that, the name was a tribute to the city’s massive aviation industry; the McDonnell-Douglas aircraft manufacturing company being one of St. Louis’ largest employers.
Another thing the Silna brothers did was to overhaul the roster. The 1974-75 Spirits knocked off the reigning league champion New York Nets (who featured the league’s biggest star Julius “Dr. J” Erving) in the 1975 Eastern Division Finals. But the 75-76 season saw the Spirits fall on hard times both competitively and financially. Despite the new of influx of talent led by All-Star and All-ABA power forward Marvin Barnes, the Spirits of St. Louis played erratically, they dropped in the standings, and attendance suffered.
But the Silna brothers were determined to keep their dream of becoming part of the NBA alive. Two things were happening simultaneously at the end of the ABA’s 1975-76 season. In May 1976, the Silna brothers announced their intention to move the Spirits to Salt Lake City to become the Utah Rockies. This was supposed to be the result of a merger between the Spirits and the existing franchise in Salt Lake City, the Utah Stars. The merger failed when the Stars folded before the deal could be completed.
Meanwhile, the ABA and the NBA were in formal talks to complete the previously-rumored merger. This is when a game of “musical chairs” broke out. The word was that part of the deal to merge the leagues would be that only a select few ABA franchises would be included in the deal; the others would be folded.
To use a basketball term, the Silna bothers went into a “full-court press” to keep their dream of NBA ownership alive. After the failed merger with the Utah Stars, the Silna brothers contemplated a plan involving selling the Spirits, buying arguably the league’s best team the Kentucky Colonels, and moving them to western New York to replace the NBA’s Buffalo Braves, who were planning to move to Florida. They abandoned that idea; instead they bought the rights to some of the Utah Stars best players, including future Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone.
When time for the merger came, the Spirits of St. Louis featured a formidable roster. Along with the aforementioned Malone and Marvin Barnes, the Spirits ended up with 11 other players who would play in the NBA in the first post-merger season of 1976–77; basketball fans of the right age are going to remember many of these names.
There’s a lot guys on that list who would go on on to have distinguished careers in the NBA; several would go on to win championships as players and/or coaches. But they would never do that as members of the Spirits of St. Louis.
Despite everything the Silnas did, citing the previous failure in the “Gateway City” of the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks and the plummeting attendance of the Spirits of St. Louis, the Silna brother’s team was not included in the merger.
By the time the ABA-NBA merger was finalized on August 5th, 1976, there were only seven ABA franchises remaining. Four were absorbed into the new NBA; the New York Nets, the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Denver Nuggets. Of the three remaining teams, the Virginia Squires folded before the merger was completed. John Y. Brown Jr., who owned the Kentucky Colonels, took a $3.3 million buy-out.
That left the Silna brothers and their Spirits of St. Louis.
The problem was the Silna brothers weren’t going away easily. What they really wanted was to own an NBA franchise. But the newly-formed NBA wasn’t going to have them. But they also needed the Silna brothers to agree to a deal. The bottom line was if the Silna brothers didn’t sign off, this was all dead in the water.
Eventually, the owners of the four ABA franchises which were joining the new NBA cut a deal with Ozzie and Daniel Silna. They signed off on the merger after the owners of the four former ABA franchises offered them $2.2 million in cash up front along with a 1/7 share of future television revenues; a figure based on the 7 remaining ABA franchises which still existed at the time the merger talks began.
There’s some complex math involved in the “nuts and bolts” of the television deal, but the basic concept was this. Since the four ABA franchises joining the NBA agreed to pay the Silna brothers, the 1/7 share became 4/7; 1/7 from each of the Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, and Spurs. At the time, NBA franchises were earning around $500,000 per year in television revenue. This was a small piece of their operating revenue, so those team executives were more than willing to part with a slice of it. As it stood in 1976, this deal would have netted the Silna brothers $286,000 in 1976 (4/7 x $500,000). Overall, this worked out to about 2% of the league’s total television revenue, which is why the NBA considered it to be little more than “the cost of doing business.”
Here’s the part why I asked you to keep the original purchase price of the Carolina Cougars in mind. Obviously, the buy-out given to the Silna brothers wasn’t intended to bleed anybody dry. While most financial guys would love an annual $286,000 income off a $1 million investment, from the beginning money wasn’t the motivation for the Silna brothers. They wanted to join the NBA, and the original intention of this deal was eventually to squeeze the NBA into awarding them a franchise of their own, the idea being the newly formed 22-team would eventually expand. After all, the NBA had already doubled in size from 9 to 18 teams over the past 15 years.
Here’s where the genius/luck of the Silna brothers kicks in. Not only did they just secure a financial toe-hold in the NBA, but thanks to their attorney Donald Schupak, some terms were added to the deal which flew right under the NBA’s radar, but would prove to be monumental.
The first was a gamble on the expansion of the league. A clause was inserted into the contract which stipulated if the league grew beyond 28 teams, they revenue share owed to the Silna brothers could never drop below that which would be generated by a 28-team league.
Secondly, the deal offered a very broad description of what constituted “television revenue.” Schupak did this for two reasons. The first was so that the definition of television revenue “could not be evaded or made obsolete.” The second was that the Silna brothers and Schupak saw that there was a new vehicle coming in terms of television. In 1976, cable television was in it’s infancy; nobody knew what effect it might have on professional sports. The NBA was blind to it, but the Silna brothers and Schupak made sure that if cable became a “thing,” they were getting a piece of it.
But the pièce de résistance came in the length of the agreement. The legal term is “in perpetuity.” In plain English, it meant the Silna brothers and/or their descendants would be getting paid by those four former ABA teams “for as long as the NBA or its successors continues in its existence.”
Again, the NBA never considered what this all could mean; they simply didn’t see what television could become in terms of a revenue stream. That would soon change.
The first season in which this deal yielded revenue for the Silna brothers was 1980-81. Despite the fact the amount to be paid nearly doubled from an estimated $286,000 to just over an actual $520,000, the NBA executives still did not see this as a problem.
But as the NBA’s popularity exploded in the 1980s, so did the television revenues. In successive deals, the broadcast rights for the league were sold to CBS, then NBC. Later deals for cable television came from TNT and TBS. By the end of the decade, the NBA’s total television revenues were well into hundreds of millions of dollars. Don’t think for a minute the Silna brothers weren’t getting their share.
The amount being paid to the former owners of the Spirits of St. Louis grew continually throughout the 1980s. By 1990, it reached $4.4 million per year. They never made less than that throughout 1990s. Things only escalated when the NBA expanded beyond the 28-team threshold in 1995. By 1999, the number was up to $12.53 million per year.
The value of this deal for the Silna brothers kept heading towards the stars with the dawn of the 21st century. By 2003, the Silna brothers were collecting $15.6 million per year. Over the next decade the number averaged just over $17 million annually. By 2014, the NBA hit the “International Enough Line.” Now, not only was the amount being paid to the Silna brothers over $20 million yearly, but there was a new $24 billion, 9-year cable/television deal coming which was only going to exponentially grow the amount the four former ABA franchises would have to pay.
Several attempts to buy out the Silna brothers deal had been made in the past, but with the same result. The only way the Silna brothers were going to give up the cash cow they had was by being awarded an NBA franchise. But just like the stand-off which started this situation, the Silnas weren’t going away easy, and the NBA had to find a way to make a deal. The bottom line was the buy out price was going to be much higher than the $6 million the NBA offered in the early 1980s.
In 2014, after a lot of legal wrangling and corporate hocus-pocus, a settlement was reached between the NBA, the four former ABA franchises, and the Silna brothers. While the actual agreement involves holding companies and a lot of legalese, the bottom line is after collecting over $300 million dollars since the inception of this deal, the Silna brothers ended up with a $500 million buy out. In other words, they turned a $1 million investment into over $800 million…an amount worth more than most NBA franchises.
According to Forbes, at the time of the buy-out in 2014, only four of thirty NBA franchises were worth more than what the Silna brothers netted; the New York Knicks ($1.4 billion), the Los Angeles Lakers ($1.35 billion), the Chicago Bulls ($1 billion), and the Boston Celtics ($875 million).
And to think, Jim Rockford was crying “foul” over the loss of a $20,000 dollar bonus.
The Moral of the Story:
A deal is a deal…which is why thanks to Donald Schupak, nobody in contract law uses the term “in perpetuity” anymore.
P.S. In that episode of The Rockford Files, keep an eye out for soon-to-be sports media star Jayne Kennedy as “Mark O’Brien’s” secretary.
P.P.S. The very first job ever held by now-legendary broadcaster Bob Costas was as the play-by-play man for the Spirits of St. Louis.
P.P.P.S. For a truly amazing tale, check out the Crime in Sports podcast. The episode featuring Marvin Barnes is must-hear stuff…particularly the “Time Machine” story.
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