And on the 149th day, there was finally pro basketball labor peace.
Following a 15-hour meeting, the NBA owners and its players reached a tentative agreement around 3:40 a.m. on Nov. 26 that will end the lockout and result in a 66-game season, tipping off Christmas Day.
For that to occur, though, the players must drop their antitrust lawsuits, which threaten the owners with a trebling of their $2 billion in player salary commitments from last season, and reform their union after disbanding on Nov. 14, while the league's labor committee and the board of governors have to officially approve the pact.
Following those maneuvers, a majority of the 430-plus NBA players and 15 of the 29 teams (the league currently owns the New Orleans Hornets) must then ratify the accord at which time the pro basketball league officially will avoid NBA commissioner David Stern's "nuclear winter": the cancellation of the 2011-12 campaign.
A lockout wiped out the 1998 portion of the 1998-99 season, which didn't begin until Feb. 6 of the latter year and was limited to 50 games. Now, it appears the players, national TV partners TNT, ESPN and ABC, as well as regional sports networks, will be back on NBA courts before the end of 2011.
After the new agreement is finalized, training camp and the free agency period are both set to begin on Dec. 9. Some reports suggest there will be one or two exhibition games to get the clubs ready before regular-season action begins Dec. 25. The league's original schedule called for a trio of high-profile matchups -- Boston at New York (noon (ET), ESPN), Miami at Dallas (2:30 p.m. ABC) and Chicago at L.A. Lakers (5 p.m. (ABC) -- on Christmas.
A new schedule -- truncated from the tradition 82-game format -- has yet to be announced, but in years past the NBA has played as many as five games on the holiday, which has also put TNT, in the mix.
ESPN NBA correspondent Chris Broussard reported Saturday that the playoffs will begin a week later than initially scheduled and that The Finals will extend another week deeper into June. In addition, other contests will have to be added in order to reach the 66-game level, even though the season is tipping off almost eight weeks after its original Nov. 1 start date.According to The New York Times, each team's schedule will comprise 48 intraconference contests -- just four fewer than under the traditional 82-game slate -- but just 18 versus the other conference.The regular-season, which will feature energy-sapping back-to-back-to-back games, is expected to conclude on April 26, according to reports.
It is unclear if the truncated schedule will result in any rebates from regional sports networks to distributors. Although parties emphasized that each contract was different, there seemed to be a consensus that some form of compensation would be required if the league missed 20 games or more, a threshold it will apparently not cross. The NBA had cancelled games through Dec. 15, 26% of its original 2011-12 game season.
The 10-year pact -- according to multiple reports, the first of which came from CBSSports.com -- trades on a split of basketball-related income ranging from 49% to 51% being allocated to the players. Under the collective bargaining agreement that expired on June 30, the players received 57% of the $4 billion in basketball-related income the league generated during the 2010-11 campaign, during which the league owners said they lost a collective $300 million. Gauged on a 50% revenue-split model, it appears that the NBA players would give back about $300 million annually under the new deal, which requires teams to spend at an 85% level of the adjusted salary cap the first two seasons and at a minimum 90% clip thereafter.
With a more punitive luxury tax for those surpassing the salary cap a better revenue sharing component in place, the owners have affected a system they believe will lead to more competitive smaller market teams. However, the ballers' executive leadership finally signed off on new deal that will apparently continue to provide mechanisms for sufficient player movement.
The pact contains an opt-out clause available to both sides after the sixth season. That could come after the current national TV contracts with ABC/ESPN and TNT -- which together yield an average of about $930 million annually under an eight-year deal -- expire following the 2015-16 season.
"We're pleased with the developments and look forward to the start of the season on ESPN and ABC," said an ESPN spokesman.
Turner issued a similar statement: "We are pleased and encouraged both sides are making progress to end the lockout."
The NBA didn't respond to queries seeking comment about the new schedule.