The deal was reached 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 & Manges in Midtown Manhattan.
“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, “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.”
It is expected that training camps and free agency will open simultaneously on Dec. 9, giving teams two weeks to prepare.
The three Dec. 25 games are likely to be the ones that were on the schedule: the Boston Celtics at the Knicks, followed by the Miami Heat at the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls 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 2011-12 season, shortened by 16 games, would be the second shortest in the modern era, after a 50-game season in 1999, which was also foreshortened by a lengthy lockout. Teams would play a compressed schedule, and the season would be extended into late April. The season had been scheduled to begin Nov. 1. The playoffs and finals would also be pushed back.
But much needs to be done before the basketballs hit the court.
Officials on both sides must still negotiate myriad so-called B-list issues, including drug testing, the minimum age and the use of the Development League, and the entire collective bargaining agreement must be formally constructed.
The deal must 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 dispose of two pending lawsuits, and the players must reconstitute their union, which was dissolved on Nov. 14.
Both Mr. Stern and Billy Hunter, the executive director 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 key committees on each side, and officials demurred on any questions about the details.
While Mr. Stern, Mr. Holt and Adam Silver, the deputy commissioner, smiled through their fatigue, the players’ representatives — Mr. Hunter, Derek Fisher and Maurice 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 Mr. Fisher, the erstwhile president of the players union.
He did not smile as he said it, appearing more relieved than happy. Mr. Evans, another member of what was the union’s executive board, sat stoically next to Mr. Fisher. No one on the players’ side praised the agreement.
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