Not that it has much to do with sports (sorry, Navy LAX bros!), but the federal government avoided a shutdown at midnight because of a last-minute agreement after terse, tense and long negotiations. Unfortunately, sports fans are becoming increasingly familiar with terse, tense and long negotiations. The NFL is dealing with it right now, and the NBA's doomsday clock is ticking ever louder.
On the basketball side, the government shutdown analogy is almost too easy to make.
One side wants "historic cuts" while the other side thinks the cutters are being ham-handed and greedy. In the federal negotiations, Republicans wanted the big spending cuts to help fund tax breaks for wealthier Americans. In the NBA negotiations, franchise owners want big payroll cuts to help boost team profits or erase team deficits. It's basically monetary redistribution (though conservatives would call it the reversal of previous redistribution).
So clearly, David Stern -- leading a pack of rabid franchise owners who are demanding incredible payroll cuts -- is John Boehner in this analogy. That'd make Billy Hunter, the chief of the players' union, Barack Obama. But is Hunter as willing to compromise as Obama apparently was?
Count me as pessimistic. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post notes that the final deal ironed out by Boehner and Obama included cuts deeper than what Boehner had originally proposed. Boehner's conservative base -- the Tea Party freshman class in Congress, namely -- was so aggressive in its push for cuts that it not only outlasted Obama, but it pulled Boehner to the right along the way.
NBA owners have been pushing for a $45-million hard salary cap. Currently, the league has a soft cap around $60 million. Let's assume Stern is on board with the $45-million hard cap flagpost. For NBA owners to match the conservatives' government shutdown win, they'd have to get the players to sign on for something like a $35-million hard cap without guaranteed salaries.
That's just not going to happen, unless the lockout lasts a full season, which would be so devastating to the sport that it's almost unfathomable. The one difference between Obama and Hunter is that only one has a PR game to worry about. Hunter has clients: millionaire basketball players. Obama is his own client, a president whose approval ratings and (re-)electability matter. Hunter's allowed to be more selfish on behalf of his constituents, because they'll survive a shutdown. Obama doesn't have that luxury.
That's where the analogy falls apart. In the government shutdown negotiations, only one side -- Boehner's side -- played like they had nothing to lose. In the NBA's situation, neither side has any more to lose than the other. That creates a dangerous environment, and one not easily resolved.