*By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK — A handshake deal is in place, and the NBA season is set to begin on Christmas Day.
David Stern and Billy Hunter announced a tentative agreement to end the NBA lockout shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday in a small conference room at a law firm in the General Motors Building in Manhattan.
Gentlemen, start your engines!
The settlement, first reported by Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, came on the 149th day of the work stoppage that forced the postponement of the regular season. On the 25th day of collective bargaining meetings between the two sides, the framework of the deal was agreed to after 15 hours of talks.
The handshake deal effectively ends the players’ anti-trust suit against the owners, as well as the owners’ lawsuit against the players which was filed over the summer.
“We’ve reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals,” commissioner David Stern said. “We’re optimistic that will all come to pass and the season will begin on Dec. 25, Christmas Day, with a tripleheader.”
The sides announced no details, although Stern said the Christmas tripleheader will include the same games that were originally scheduled for Dec. 25 — Miami at Dallas, Boston-New York and the Chicago Bulls against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The agreement must still be ratified by the owners and the players, and there are a few remaining B-list items to be resolved.
“We’re confident once we present it, they will support it,” said union director Billy Hunter, who sat alongside Stern at the news conference. Both men looked haggard and worn out after the marathon final bargaining session.
“Despite some bumps, the greater good required us to knock ourselves out and come to this understanding,” Stern said.
Hunter said the union’s lawyers planned to meet later Saturday morning, and it would take three days to a week to put the agreement forward for a ratification vote.
The owners’ labor relations committee will meet by telephone Saturday, and a vote of the full Board of Governors will follow “in due course,” Stern said.
If all goes well, training camps and free agency will open simultaneously on Dec. 9, and a 66-game season will be played.
No details of the last-minute compromises were announced, but the sides had completed at least 95 percent of their work as of two weeks ago and needed to find middle ground on several unresolved system issues and the specifications of the new financial split under which players will receive approximately 50 percent of basketball-related income.
Players made concessions totaling $3 billion over the 10-year term of the agreement. Both sides will have the option to opt out of the deal after six years.
“It will largely prevent the high spending teams from competing in the free agent market the way they have in the past. The luxury tax is harsher than it was in the last deal, and we hope it’s effective and will give fans in each community hope that they will compete for a championship,” deputy commissioner Adam Silver said.