NBA owners and players reached a tentative deal Saturday to end a lockout that had thrown the whole basketball season into jeopardy, planning to begin a shortened schedule on Christmas Day.
NBA commissioner David Stern emerged from a 15-hour meeting early Saturday morning to say the parties had reached a “tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations.”
He added: “We’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that theNBA season will begin December 25.”
The normal 82-game regular season, which had been due to begin November 1, would be shortened to 66 games under the plan, losing only 16 regular season games, officials said.
Any agreement must still be ratified by both NBA owners and players, with a majority needed on both sides.
The ratification process for the players is complicated by the fact that they disbanded their union when talks last broke down on November 14 and launched an anti-trust lawsuit against the league.
They must drop the lawsuit and re-form the union in order to vote on the deal.
“We thought it was in both of our best interests to try to reach a resolution and save the game,” said union executive director Billy Hunter, who sat next to Stern as they announced the agreement.
If the deal is approved, it will have come in time to save the league’s traditional marquee Christmas lineup.
If the schedule stays the same, this season’s December 25 games feature Miami at Dallas in a rematch of last season’s championship series won by the Mavericks over the LeBron James-led Heat, plus Boston at New York and Chicago at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stern said the league’s labor committee would discuss the agreement later Saturday and he expects them to recommend it to owners.
“We want to play basketball,” Stern said. “We’re very pleased we’ve come this far. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
The league locked out players on July 1 after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired.
Owners, claiming $300 million in losses last season among 22 of the league’s 30 clubs, said they needed changes in how they divided some $4 billion in revenue and stricter controls on salary spending.
The wrangles over the financial issues eventually saw games scheduled from November 1-December 15 canceled.
Details of the agreement were sketchy as of Saturday morning and a few issues such as drug testing remained to be negotiated.
The New York Times reported that the proposed deal features a 50-50 split of revenues — representing $300 million less for players who received 57 percent of basketball related income under the prior contract.
The newspaper also reported it calls for shorter contracts, smaller raises and harsher penalties on the top-spending teams, something players had bitterly opposed because it could limit their options as free agents.
“This was not an easy agreement for anyone,” NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. “The owners came in having suffered substantial losses and feeling the system wasn’t working fairly across all teams.
“I certainly know the players had strong views about expectations in terms of what they should be getting from the system,” Silver added. “It required a lot of compromise from both parties’ part, and I think that’s what we saw today.”
Stern denied that the players’ decision to go to court pushed the league into making a deal, although the players stood to win billions in damages if their lawsuit was successful.
“For us the litigation is something that just has to be dealt with,” Stern said. “It was not the reason for the settlement.
“The reason for the settlement was we’ve got fans, we’ve got players who would like to play and we’ve got others who are dependent on us.
“And it’s always been our goal to reach a deal that was fair to both sides and get us playing as soon as possible, but that took a little time.”
In the only prior NBA season shortened in a money fight, each team played 50 games in the 1998-99 season, which did not start until February after a deal was reached in early January.