John Y’s Musings from the Middle: The Salina Bros Shakedown

We’ve all heard some version of the story of a great basketball player who in some big game misses the clutch shot that could have won the game.

After that the player is forever haunted by that “moment” and asked over and over again by fans who recognize him, “Aren’t you the guy who ……?”

Over time the wound dissipates but never quite fully goes away.

My father wasn’t a basketball player (at least after high school). But as a former professional basketball team owner, he has had to live with a similar kind haunting basketball “moment.”

Call it the “Salina Bros Shakedown.” Call it the “Greatest sports negotiation of all time.” Call it the convergence of tenacity and blind, dumb luck. Whatever it was, it now has a final-seeming price tag of $800M.

And it’s $800M that, theoretically, my father—had my father been a different kind of person and a more ruthless kind of negotiator- may have gotten a piece of.

jyb_musingsYesterday I was with my dad when we ran into Joe Arnold who stopped him to do this interview. Joe does a masterful job of explaining succinctly what happened and capturing my father’s unbothered and good-humored attitude about it all.

I believe in negotiating hard and negotiating smart. Always. And my father has taught me that well. But he has also taught me to negotiate honorably with an eye toward your reputation and future business opportunities. At the end of each negotiation you have a “bottom line” business deal and a “bottom line” reflection on your character. And both are of equal importance.

In this particular negotiation there was a fluke in which had my father been focused merely on squeezing every last penny out of this deal at the expense of his reputation, he may have gotten a piece of this improbable windfall. But that would have meant sacrificing who he is and his reputation as a fair dealer with people who had trusted him and were relying on him to close the biggest deal of their lives. The entire ABA/NBA merger was being held up by the Salina brothers final demand for TV rights in perpetuity and they knew they had the NBA and ABA over a barrel and merely had to wait them out until they capitulated. And they did.

Is a person’s reputation worth $100M, $200M or even $400M dollars?

I guess the takeaway for me is that I believe that question is the wrong question. Because one’s reputation should never be for sale. Period.

And as so-called “missed opportunities” go–they should never be the cause for time-consuming and soul-draining bitterness but rather something you laugh off magnanimously and then keep moving ahead, from, lest you miss the next opportunity.

And that’s a pretty good lesson for a son to learn from his pop.

Is any of this just some sort of happy rationalization trying to pretend a missed opportunity wasn’t really wanted anyway? Probably a little. But only a little.

Because, at the end of the day, sometimes a missed shot in a basketball game, literal or figurative, is just that. And nothing more. And leaves behind an interesting story but not something to haunt or define you. After all, it’s just a game.


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