NEW YORK — Now that there's a handshake deal on a labor agreement, commissioner David Stern and union executives must persuade owners and players to approve it in time to start the season Christmas Day.
After a 149-day lockout, owners and players reached the tentative deal around 3 a.m. Saturday. It comes at a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for both sides, on top of the fans and jobs that were lost during the stalemate. And it leaves the NBA with its second shortened season because of labor problems. The league hopes to play a 66-game schedule instead of 82.
A slew of issues still must be worked through, though — players must drop a lawsuit against the league and reform their disbanded union — and the owners and players must vote on the deal. But the deal is expected to be approved,
After a 15-hour negotiating session Friday into Saturday, Stern accepted congratulations, headed for another short night of sleep, then planned to brief his owners on a plan that could change the way they do business.
"We're very pleased we've come this far," Stern said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Players face a tougher healing process in approving an agreement that significantly limits their earnings. "We just thought that rather than try to pursue this in court, it was in both of our interests to try to reach a resolution," said players association executive director Billy Hunter.
Players association executives Derek Fisher and Maurice Evans hardly looked enthused at a news conference as they sat next to Hunter at a table with Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, chairman of the league's labor relations committee.
Many players took to social media to react, and most sounded happy just to have a chance to play again. Among the typical comments: "I feel like my kids on X-mas day! So juiced!!" LeBron James wrote on Twitter.
Some players took a circumspect view.
"Haven't crossed the finish line yet," Magic guard J.J. Redick wrote, "but there's definitely a reason to be optimistic."
"Glad lockout is almost over," Magic 10-year veteran Jason Richardson wrote, "but I hope each player read(s) the fine print and make(s) the right decision."
The owners hope to find the parity that exists in the NFL, where small-market Green Bay is the defending champion. The NBA has been dominated recently by the biggest spenders, with the Celtics, Lakers and Mavericks winning the past four titles.
"I think it will largely prevent the high-spending teams from competing in the free-agent market the way they've been able to in the past," Silver said. "It's not the system we sought out to get in terms of a harder (salary) cap, but the luxury tax is harsher than it was. We hope it's effective."
The sides fought mainly over division of revenues and other changes owners wanted. Owners said they lost hundreds of millions of dollars in each year of the former deal, and they wanted a system in which the big-market teams wouldn't have the ability to outspend small-market ones.
Players fought those changes, not wanting to see any team taken out of the market when they became free agents.