NEW YORK — NBA basketball is back, and Commissioner David Stern insists better than before.
Maybe it won't be noticed right away, but Stern said the "tortured journey" of this 161-day lockout will prove to be worth it.
Stern announced that owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement Thursday, the final step to ending the five-month lockout and paving the way for training camps and free agency to open Friday.
Together with an expanded revenue sharing program, Stern said teams and fans will see an improved league in coming years.
"It's a new beginning in a way," he said. "It's going to take a couple of years to work its way out, but we're very excited about its prospects."
The 10-year deal promises owners savings of perhaps a quarter billion dollars a year but largely leaves intact the soft salary cap system that the players fought hard to maintain.
Stern and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver announced the deal during a press conference, putting an end to nearly two years of difficult negotiations that resulted in the second shortened season in NBA history. A 66-game schedule will begin on Christmas and run through April 26, forcing every team to play on three straight nights at least once.
Owners approved the deal, which allows either side to opt out after six years, by a 25-5 vote. The players' association said 86 percent of the more than 200 players who voted electronically approved the deal.
Owners also agreed to an expanded revenue sharing plan, and Stern called both agreements "a watershed moment" for the league. The plan, which will begin in 2013-14, more than quadruples the revenue currently shared by teams, with Stern saying they could now receive in excess of $20 million and at least six teams could pay $50 million into the plan.
Saying they lost hundreds of millions a year under the old collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2005, and believing that it favored large-market teams, owners sought significant changes in these negotiations. They refused an option to let the CBA run another year and opened the process in January 2010 with a proposal that called for a hard cap, the elimination of guaranteed contracts, rollbacks of current salaries and a massive reduction in the players' share of basketball-related income.
Owners locked out the players on July 1 when the old deal expired, and they reached a tentative deal on the main issues around 3 a.m. Nov. 26, heading off the potential of a canceled season and avoiding a possibly costly and lengthy court battle if the players had proceeded with an antitrust lawsuit.
The remaining issues finally were agreed to late Thursday morning, after players already had begun voting electronically.
Stern knows the owners, particularly in the small markets, didn't get everything they wanted, but he said "this is going to be a more competitive league over time."
"While it's not perfect, the deal addresses significant issues on both sides in a very productive way, we believe," he added.
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