John Minchillo, File, Associated Press
NEW YORK — NBA Commissioner David Stern accepted some congratulations, headed for another short night of sleep, then planned to brief his owners on a deal that could change the way they do business.
Players, looking beat and beaten, face a tougher healing process in approving an agreement that significantly limits their earnings.
After a 149-day lockout, owners and players reached a tentative new labor deal early Saturday, one they expect will be ratified in time to start the season with a Dec. 25 tripleheader.
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, with the hope of getting in 66 games instead of a full 82-game schedule.
The NBA lockout isn't quite over, but it appears the NBA's "nuclear winter" will be avoided.
First, players must drop a lawsuit against the league, reform their disbanded union and approve the handshake deal that was reached shortly after 3 a.m. after a marathon negotiating session of more than 15 hours. Players' association executives Derek Fisher and Maurice Evans hardly looked enthused about the agreement as they sat next to executive director Billy Hunter on the same side of a conference table as Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the league's labor relations committee.
But at least they weren't sitting in a courtroom, where they appeared headed less than two weeks earlier.
Unwilling to accept the owners' proposal or Stern's ultimatum, the union instead disclaimed interest, paving the way for an antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota that could have earned the players billions but surely would have come at the cost of at least the entire 2011-12 season.
Just 12 days after talks broke down and Stern declared the NBA could be headed to a "nuclear winter," he sat next to Hunter to announce the 10-year deal, with either side able to opt out after the sixth year.
Both sides said all along the only way to a deal was through negotiating. They got back together Tuesday, setting the way for the pivotal meeting that began Friday.
"I think we saw a willingness of both sides to compromise yet a little more and to reach this agreement," Silver said. "We look forward to opening on Christmas Day and we are excited to bring NBA basketball back and that's most important."
Both sides are expected to OK the pact, which would pave the way for training camps and free agency to open simultaneously Dec. 9.
President Barack Obama gave a thumbs-up when told about the tentative settlement after he finished playing basketball at Fort McNair in Washington on Saturday morning.
Owners relented slightly on their previous insistence that players receive no more than 50 percent of basketball-related income after they were guaranteed 57 percent in the old collective bargaining agreement. The target is still a 50-50 split, but with a band from 49 percent to 51 percent that gives the players a better chance of reaching the highest limit than previously proposed.
The players' side revealed little of its feelings about the deal, noting the pending litigation in its desire for keeping details quiet. But players always preferred to be on the court, rather than in it, and now they finally have the chance.
"I think it was the ability of the parties to decide it was necessary to compromise and to kind of put this thing back together in some kind of way, to put an end to the litigation and everything that that entails," Hunter said.
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