Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — David Stern has been cast as more of a Grinch type, but the NBA commissioner got to play the role of Santa Claus in the middle of the night Saturday.
Just when many resigned Utah Jazz and NBA fans figured they'd get the basketball equivalent of coal in their stockings, Stern delivered some seasonal cheer.
And a season to cheer about.
After yet another marathon meeting in New York City, Stern announced in the 3 a.m. hour that owners and players had reached a tentative labor agreement.
If ratified by both sides, that jolly news will end the 149-day-old lockout and bring the NBA back for a condensed 66-game schedule beginning on — you guessed it — Dec. 25.
Ho. Ho. Hoop.
"It was like an early Christmas present for us," said an "ecstatic" Steve Eliason, general manager of The Gateway's Fanzz sports merchandise store.
The breaking news set the social-media world on fire despite the odd hour. At one point, seven of nine trending topics on Twitter were NBA-related.
Jazz players and management were giddy about the gift of games.
"I'm ready to play, man. I couldn't be more excited about the prospect of getting back to playing ball," Jazz guard Raja Bell said in a phone interview from Miami. "It's been my life for so long now that you kind of feel like a part of you is missing when you don't get a chance to do it."
Jazz swingman C.J. Miles lost sleep — in a good way — over the surprise.
"I'm trippin' right now foreal (for real). ... I might not sleep until the 9th," Miles wrote on his Twitter account Saturday at about 1:30 a.m. MST.
Thrilled that the Jazz will reunite for a mini-camp on Dec. 9 if the deal is formally approved, Miles then headed to the hotel gym for a late-night sweat session.
"I have to," he wrote, "I can't sleep."
The lockout-ending news brought a heavenly praise out of the humble, church-going Jeremy Evans, the exciting forward who previously vocalized his wishes to settle what he deemed to be a "silly" situation.
Evans proclaimed his gratitude in a text to the Deseret News: "Thank U Jesus, Let's Play."
Veteran point guard Earl Watson, who fed many memorable alley-oop passes to Evans last year with Utah, added his excitement, "Great news!"
Though they've been restricted as to what they can say by a league-wide gag order, Jazz management released a statement to acknowledge the promising development.
"The tentative agreement is great news for our fans, players and our organization," Jazz president Randy Rigby said. "We are very hopeful that the NBA will be back on the court on Christmas Day."
The Jazz previously announced that season-ticket holders will be refunded with interest for canceled games.
"Our season-ticket holders, sponsors, fans and community have shown us great support through this process," Rigby said, "and we look forward to giving them what they want most, and that is Jazz basketball."
Though the current schedule must be modified to a condensed version, the original 2011-12 slate has the Denver Nuggets visiting Utah on Monday, Dec. 26.
Before that potential season-opener happens — or the three televised Christmas match-ups, including NBA champion Dallas vs. Miami — fine print on the new collective bargaining agreement needs to be scribbled down.
Players, who disclaimed interest and filed now-moot lawsuits a week ago against the NBA, must become a union again.
And the 30 owners and 400-plus players still have to ratify the new CBA.
A sure-to-be-frantic free-agency period will begin the same day as the brief training camps, on Dec. 9. A couple of preseason games are likely to be played the week before Christmas.
Jazz broadcaster and ex-forward Matt Harpring believes the new deal is a good one for his former team because owners and players will almost evenly split basketball-related income.
"There is no doubt this new agreement helps not only the Jazz but all small-market teams," tweeted Harpring, who's encouraged players to sign a deal in recent weeks. "This will allow the NBA to be sustainable in future."
That's far better than the "nuclear winter" Stern warned about when the sides couldn't find common ground a couple of weeks ago.
But what started out as a secret meeting Tuesday finished with a handshake agreement after 15 hours of negotiating Friday and Saturday.
"I think we saw a willingness of both sides to compromise yet a little more and to reach this agreement," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said. "We look forward to opening on Christmas Day and we are excited to bring NBA basketball back, and that's most important."
Santa Stern — not to mention NBA teams, players and fans — would agree.
Contributing: Alex Cabrero, Associated Press
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