After a slow start in their inaugural season, 1974 – 1975, the Spirits reached the playoffs with a late rush, then upset the defending ABA champion New York Nets in the first round of the playoffs. But the team squandered this good start the following year. Despite inheriting several players (including Malone) from the Utah Stars after that franchise failed in the middle of the season, the Spirits finished well out of playoff contention in 1975 – 1976. Attendance in St. Louis fell through the floor; they were lucky to draw crowds of more than 1,000 people in an 18,000-seat arena, and frequently drew “crowds” in the hundreds. At season’s end, negotiations were underway to move the franchise to Salt Lake City, Utah as the Utah Rockies.
The NBA placated John Y. Brown, owner of the Kentucky Colonels, by giving him a $3.3 million settlement in exchange for shutting his team down. (Brown later used much of that money to buy the Buffalo Braves of the NBA.) But the owners of the Spirits, the brothers Ozzie and Daniel Silna, struck a prescient deal to acquire future television money from the teams that joined the NBA, a 1/7 share from each franchise (or nearly 2% of the entire NBA’s TV money), in perpetuity. With network TV deals becoming more and more lucrative, the deal has made the Silnas wealthy, earning them $186 million as of 2008, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and $255 million as of 2012 according to The New York Times. (The NBA nearly succeeded in buying out the Silnas in 1982 by offering $5 million over eight years, but negotiations stalled when the siblings demanded $8 million over five.) On June 27, 2007, it was extended for another 8 years, ensuring another $100 million+ windfall for the Silnas. In 2014, the Silnas reached an agreement with the NBA to greatly reduce the perpetual payments and take a lump sum of $500 million. In the last few years before the lump sum agreement, the Silnas were receiving $14.57 million a year, despite being owners of a team that hadn’t played one minute of basketball in more than 35 years. The Silnas will, however, still be receiving a now much smaller portion of the television revenue through a new partnership with the former ABA teams the Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, and Spurs.