Players, owners strike deal to start play Christmas Day

The NBA and its players’ union struck a tentative deal early Saturday morning that, if approved, will see the league begin play on Christmas Day.

The two sides held a marathon 15-hour meeting on Friday, faced with the probability that failure to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement this weekend would likely result in the cancellation of the entire season. NBA commissioner David Stern wouldn’t provide specifics of the tentative agreement, saying simply: “We wanted to play basketball.”

If the agreement is ratified by the owners and players, the 66-game regular season would begin on Dec. 25. It would open with the Boston Celtics visiting the New York Knicks, followed by the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks doing battle in an NBA Finals rematch.

The third and final game would see the Chicago Bulls tangle with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Stern admitted that the deal is still subject to a number of approvals along the way, but said that “we’re optimistic that will all come to pass and that the NBA season will begin Dec. 25.”

Training camps and free agency are tentatively scheduled to kick off Dec. 9.

The two sides ended discussions earlier in the month after the union rejected an offer from the owners that featured a 50-50 split of basketball-related income but offered few concessions on several other issues, including use of the mid-level exception and the luxury tax.

The union immediately took steps to dissolve, and a handful of lawsuits against the league were filed. Meetings rekindled earlier this week in an effort to settle the various legal situations – a necessary precursor to resuming the bargaining process.

Reports late Friday night suggested the players had insisted on a 51-percent share of the BRI, something the owners were unwilling to provide. But the two sides continued bargaining well into the night, finally emerging with the framework for a new CBA less than two weeks after Stern declared the union had kickstarted a “nuclear winter” by rejecting the previous deal.

National Basketball Players’ Association executive director Billy Hunter said both sides wanted desperately to save what remained of the season.

“We thought it was in both of our interest to try to reach a resolution and save the game and to be able to provide the mind of superb entertainment the NBA historically has provided,” Hunter said.

Owners locked the players out on July 1 with the two sides miles apart on several key issues. The players initially sought to retain their 57-percent share of BRI while the owners sought a reduction to 37 percent.

Talks broke down a number of times, forcing Stern to twice cancel a block of regular-season games.

Approval will require a simple majority from both sides. Stern said he expects the 29 NBA owners to vote on the deal shortly after he consults with the league’s labor committee on Saturday.

The union’s 430 members will only be permitted to vote once the NBPA has been reformed. The union will need to drop its antitrust lawsuit before that can happen.

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