In the 36 hours or so since the NBA announced it had reached a tentative deal to end the owners' lockout, the initial joy over the news has given way to some disgust. As details of the new collective bargaining deal have trickled out, it's become clear that the agreement will not improve competitive balance among teams in the league.
Some are saying the NBA missed out on the chance to NFL-cize itself by creating a system in which even Green Bay and Indianapolis can contend for championships. The Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Bobcats still appear destined to middle-of-the-road status for the next 10 years.
This take on the new NBA deal brings to mind the phrase "true enough." It is true enough that this deal will not enable the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz to consistently compete for the top free agents. It hasn't solved that problem.
But that truth only goes so far, because the deeper truth is that no deal the NBA and the players could have negotiated would ever have resulted in the same competitive balance as in the NFL. The NBA is not the NFL, as so many of you angry "I hate the NBA!" commenters love to remind us on every NBA-related story.
The NFL operates in a different world than the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. It's status among fans and the exclusiveness of its content — just one game per team per week — allows it to demand ridiculous media deals and share that revenue more or less equally among all teams. It's a system that enables the league to promise ESPN the television rights to zero playoff games over eight years, yet still get ESPN to pay it $1.8 billion per year for TV rights.
That's a deal the NBA, and every other league for that matter, has no hope of getting.
It's natural to want to confuse the NFL and NBA lockouts, since they occurred simultaneously for much of the summer. But there's one big difference in discussing "competitive balance" in the two lockouts: In the NFL, the owners wanted it; in the NBA, some of the owners wanted it.
That's no small factor in why the NBA's situation took so long to solve. The players association was really negotiating with three separate parties: big-market owners who wanted some minor tweaks to the CBA, small-market owners who wanted huge changes and were willing to cancel the entire season, and an increasingly impotent commissioner David Stern.
The was no leader like Robert Kraft among the NBA owners to convince them to come together and get a deal done. Miami Heat owner Micky Arison never seemed to care that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert saw his franchise's value fall 26 percent without LeBron James, and Gilbert didn't care that Arison was missing out on millions from marketing James and Dwyane Wade as a result of the lockout.
In the NFL, owners were willing to share some sacrifice for the greater good, because the sacrifice was still one of the best deals in all of business, not just sports. The NBA's deal didn't accomplish this, but in reality, it was never going to, no matter how long negotiations dragged on.