Daniel Silna, a guy from New Jersey, and Bob Costas, a guy from Commack, have a bond that goes back more than 40 years and formed in St. Louis, of all places.
It was there that Costas, a young Syracuse alumnus, arrived to serve as play-by-play man for the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis in 1974-75, where Silna and his brother, Ozzie, were the owners.
The Silnas never even interviewed Costas; they only heard a tape of his work. Daniel recalled his late brother saying afterward, “Gee, that guys sounds great, bring him in.”
Good idea. “If you asked me who was the most successful member of the Spirits, it’s undoubtedly Bob Costas,” Silna said with a laugh. “I mean, c’mon. He’s the gold standard of sportscasters. But Bob is a lot more than a sportscaster. Bob is a true journalist.”
That last point is what helped lead to the latest collaboration between the two. On Saturday at Columbia Law School, Costas will moderate a panel discussion called “Lessons from the Munich Olympics” about the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the hands of Palestinian terrorists in 1972.
Costas has been vocal, particularly during the Opening Ceremony in London in 2012, about the IOC’s decades-long refusal to formally memorialize those who died. (The IOC did unveil a memorial monument earlier this year in Rio.)
“It’s been a long time coming,” Silna said, and cited an ongoing need for more education about and discussion of those events, which are beyond the memory of anyone under 50.
Among the scheduled panelists are Guri Weinberg, whose father, Moshe, a wrestling coach, was among those killed; Dan Alon, a fencer who was spared when the terrorists did not enter his room, and Barbara Berger, whose brother David, a weightlifter, was a victim.
The event was politicized both then and in the intervening decades, which Silna said missed the central point.
“These were Olympic athletes,” he said. “One of the things we believe about the Olympics is the purity of Olympic athletes engaging in sports in peace and harmony and striving to make everyone better. This occurred in the Olympic Village.”
Saturday’s event is a fundraiser for the Gerrard Berman Day School in Oakland, New Jersey.
Silna and Costas worked together on a Spirits reunion in St. Louis two years ago, around the time the Silna brothers made a long-sought settlement that resolved what often has been called the greatest deal in sports history.
In exchange for being excluded from the NBA when four teams — the Nets, Spurs, Nuggets and Pacers — merged in 1976, the Spirits negotiated one-seventh of the four teams’ national TV revenue, in perpetuity. As rights fees skyrocketed, the Silnas received a windfall.
“Very candidly, I wish that we had been included in the merger of the two leagues, and we would have probably still owned a basketball team today,” Silna said. “I would rather be known for owning a basketball team than making what has been publicized as the ‘Deal of the Century.’
“It was never about money. It was about competing and creating something that would be competing for the title in the league, and we had a pretty darn good start in ’74-75 [when they beat the Nets in a playoff series]. We would have loved the opportunity to have gone on beyond that.”