Christmas gift for NBA fans: Lockout ends, play to resume Dec. 25

Finally, it appears to be over.

NBA players and owners reached a hand-shake deal to end the lockout around 3 a.m. on Saturday. If the National Basketball Players Association votes to ratify the deal — a formality at this point — the season will begin on Christmas Day. The Heat is expected to begin the season against the Mavericks in Dallas’ American Airlines Center, site of Miami’s epic collapse in last season’s NBA Finals.

“I must be dreaming ... ,” tweeted Heat owner Mickey Arison around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Most people were dreaming, literally, when NBA commissioner David Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter emerged to announce the news that the season is likely saved. Key figures of the negotiations process met for 15 hours between Friday and Saturday to hammer out the deal.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement will give the players no less than 49 percent of the league’s Basketball Related Income and no more than 51 percent. Owners will be remembered for winning the lockout battle but the players did receive a small victory on one system issue. Owners must spend 85 percent of the salary cap on team payroll in the first two years of the deal and 90 percent the three years after that.

Bleary eyed after the marathon meeting in New York, Stern indicated on Saturday morning that the tentative agreement between players and owners to end the lockout will hold.

“We’re optimistic that will all come to pass and the NBA season will begin Dec.25 Christmas Day with a tripleheader,” Stern said.

ESPN reported that the shortened season will include 66 games and that free agency and training camp will begin on Dec. 9. After all the gloom-and-doom rhetoric, only 16 games of the regular season will be lost.

“For myself, as a represented for a lot of the players, ... the most important, key thing here is our fans and the support from the people and the patience through a large part of the process,” NBPA president Derek Fisher said. “That’s where a large part of the credit goes to.”