MANHATTAN — Merry Christmas NBA fans. Now you'll likely have basketball to watch as well as the Yule Log on TV.
After a marathon bargaining session that lasted into the wee hours of Saturday morning, the five-month NBA lockout has come to an end — at least for now.
The warring sides reached a tentative deal just before 3 a.m. that would allow a shortened season of 66 games to begin on Christmas Day — the second fewest in the league's modern era, the New York TImes said.
Training camp should begin on Dec. 9 with the first three games expected to be the Boston Celtics vs the Knicks, the Miami Heat vs. the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls vs. the L.A. Lakers, the report said.
"We just want to play basketball," league commissioner David Stern announced in an early-morning press conference after the 15-hour session at the Midtown law offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
"We've reached a tentative understanding that is subject to a variety of approvals and very complex machinations but we are optimistic that will all come to pass and the NBA season will begin December 25th, Christmas Day, with a triple-header.
"We are very pleased that we have come this far."
But the deal is far from a slam dunk.
Both sides must approve the deal with the NBA needing 15 of 29 owners (excluding the New Orleans Hornets, which are owned by the league) and the union needing a majority of its more than 430 players, the Associated Press said.
But in order for the union to vote, it will need to be reformed after being dissolved on Nov. 14.
According to the Times, the expected 10-year deal favors the owners with salary cuts, shorter contracts and systems to reign in spending for big-market teams. The league lost $300 million last year.
The 149-day lockout has been a drain not only on fans and season ticket-holders, but on local businesses around Madison Square Garden and the ciyt that depend on the hardwood to get people pounding the pavement.
Paul Hurley, president of the United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association, said that game-day sales in the city were down 30 to 40 percent. National industry leaders said that restaurants across the country were losing $1 million-a-day.