As a frantic Black Fridaygave way to a sleepy Saturday morning in Midtown Manhattan, the biggest deal of all was consummated in a law office tucked between FAO Schwartz and the Apple Store.
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With handshakes, sighs and weary smiles, the N.B.A. and its players resolved a crippling labor dispute, allowing them to reopen their $4 billion-a-year business in time for the holidays. A 66-game season will start on Christmas Day, ending the second-longest lockout in league history.
The deal was reached at about 3 a.m. Saturday, on the 149th day of the lockout, after a final 15-hour bargaining session at the law offices of Weil, Gotshal and Manges.
“We’ve reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations,” the league’s commissioner, David Stern, said at 3:40 a.m., “but we’re optimistic that that will all come to pass, and that the N.B.A. season will begin on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, with a tripleheader.”
Training camps and free agency will open, simultaneously, on Dec. 9, giving teams two weeks to prepare.
The three Christmas games are likely to be the ones that were already on the schedule: Boston at the Knicks, followed by Miami at Dallas and Chicago at the Los Angeles Lakers. The rest of the schedule will be reconstructed and released in the coming days.
“We’re really excited,” said Peter Holt, the San Antonio Spurs owner and chairman of the league’s labor-relations committee. “We’re excited for the fans. We’re excited to start playing basketball, for players, for everybody involved.”
The 66-game season will be the second shortest in the modern era, following a 50-game season in 1999, which also occurred after a lengthy lockout. Teams will play a compressed schedule, and the season will be extended into late April. The season had been scheduled to begin Nov. 1. The playoffs and finals will also be pushed back.
But much needs to be done before the basketballs hit the court.
Officials on both sides must still negotiate a myriad of so-called B-list issues, including drug testing, the age limit and use of the Development League, and the entire collective bargaining agreement must be formally constructed.
The deal needs to be ratified by a simple majority of the 30 teams and a simple majority of the 430-plus players. Before that can happen, the parties must dispense with two pending lawsuits, and the players must reconstitute their union, which was dissolved on Nov. 14.
Both Stern and Billy Hunter — the head of the National Basketball Players Association — expressed confidence that the deal would be approved. Because of the early hour, the deal had not been shared with crucial committees on each side, and officials demurred on any questions about the details.
Based on tentative agreements made earlier this month, it is expected to be a 10-year deal, the longest in N.B.A. history, with an option for either side to terminate it after six years. It will include a significant pay cut for players, along with shorter contracts, smaller raises and a more punitive tax system to reign in the top-spending teams.
On nearly every count, the deal favors the owners, who had sought all along to overhaul the system. The players made significant concessions, including a reduction of up to $300 million year in salaries, $3 billion over the life of the agreement.
While Stern, Holt and Adam Silver, the deputy commissioner, smiled through their fatigue, the players’ representatives — Hunter, Derek Fisher and Mo Evans — looked grim.
“For myself, it’s great to be a part of this particular moment, in terms of giving our fans what it is that they so badly wanted and want to see,” said Fisher, the erstwhile president of the players union.
He did not smile as he said it, appearing more relieved than happy. Evans, another member of what was the union’s executive board, sat stoically next to Fisher. No one on the players’ side praised the agreement.
The deal will feature a 50-50 split of revenues, but with the possibility of the players making as much as 51 percent or as little as 49, depending on whether the league exceeds or falls short of projections. The players had been earning 57 percent.
It is unclear at this point how the final, thorny issues — primarily regarding limits on tax-paying teams and other restrictions on free agency — were resolved.