Former Ky governor has no regrets, missed out on $800M


by Joe Arnold

Posted on January 11, 2014 at 12:56 AM

Updated Saturday, Jan 11 at 1:12 AM

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WHAS11) -- More than 38 years after the last basket for his ABA Kentucky Colonels, former Kentucky Governor and KFC visionary John Y. Brown has nothing but good memories.

"We had a good experience, we had a great team," Brown told WHAS11 at the state capitol on Thursday, "still have a great following."

But the former owners of the St. Louis Spirits - the other American Basketball Association franchise which agreed to fold as part of the ABA's merger with the NBA in 1976 - have a lot more than just fond memories.

While Brown's Colonels got a $3 million buyout to say goodbye, the Spirits took less money up front, $2.2 million, but negotiated a share of future NBA television revenues, into perpetuity.

"To me, that wasn't right," Brown recalled.  "I was president of the league.  They gave me some number, I said 'That's fine.' Go have a good future in your communities."

Since 1976, the gamble by Ozzie and Daniel Silna - the owners of the St. Louis franchise - has paid them more than $300 million, just for letting their team die.

It's considered either the best or worst deal in U.S. sports history, yet the Silna's wanted even more, filing suit for their share of TV revenues unimagined in 1976, such as foreign broadcast fees and from the NBA's League Pass on pay TV.

This week, the NBA reached a reported $500 million settlement to finally kill the bulk of the Spirits' deal, though the Silna's may continue to share in a portion of future television revenue. 

The Silna's have nearly $1 billion to show for their ABA investment.  Brown has his memories.

"But the other people made about $800 million, sold out to the old ABA owners," Brown laughed.

After disbanding the Colonels, Brown purchased a stake in the NBA's Buffalo Braves in 1976 and the team outright one year later.  Brown said after failing to find a co-owner to move the Braves to Louisville, he traded the franchise for the Boston Celtics.

In 1979, the same year he married Phyllis George and was elected Governor of Kentucky, Brown ended his involvement with  professional basketball, selling the Celtics. 

"I don't regret it," Brown said.  "I don't regret selling the Boston Celtics. It just wasn't a fit for me - once I did all I could do at KFC, it was time to move on."

Brown made a fortune building Kentucky Fried Chicken, served one term as Governor and has never looked back on his exit from pro basketball.

"I don't regret any of my decisions," Brown said.  "I've had an adventurous life. It's been a productive life I think."