Surprise and joy around the NBA as deal draws near

Surprise, relief, joy and even some caution.

Such was the reaction of many NBA players and fans Saturday,

amid news that the labor dispute which led to the cancellation of

hundreds of games and threatened the entire season was nearing an


No schedules are out, the collective bargaining agreement has

not been drafted and formal votes on the deal remain unscheduled.

Still, for the first time in months, optimism seemed to take the

lead over pessimism on the NBA’s emotional scoreboard.

”The journey now begins!!” soon-to-be Cleveland guard Kyrie

Irving, the league’s No. 1 draft pick, wrote on Twitter.

Well, soon enough, anyway.

Barring either side rejecting the deal, training camps will open

Dec. 9, with the league’s first three games set to be played on

Christmas Day. The Utah Jazz invited fans to start calling again to

discuss ticket options, the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks

wrote ”Go Mavs” on Twitter shortly after the middle-of-the-night

news conference to announce the breakthrough, and Shaquille O’Neal

recorded a brief video to show his excitement.

”Haven’t crossed the finish line yet,” wrote Orlando guard

J.J. Redick, ”but there’s definitely a reason to be


The league and the union announced around 3 a.m. that they had

struck a tentative deal calling for a 66-game season, meaning many

owners – and players – were asleep, unaware of the news until they

awoke. Miami guard Dwyane Wade was text-messaging with an associate

shortly after 4 a.m. Eastern, and his reaction was subdued given

the lateness of the hour.

”All I feel right now is `Finally,”’ Wade said to The

Associated Press.

Free agent Shane Battier said he was getting ”mad love” from

fans in Memphis, Miami, Oklahoma City and Houston – teams that all

figure to be in the mix for his services.

”I am happy it looks like we’ll get to start winning our fans

back,” Battier wrote. ”Thanks for the patience. Need to read new

details before I pop the bubbly.”

Later, Battier poked fun at himself, saying that tweet made him

sound like ”a conservative old man,” adding that he was happy to

just talk basketball again.

So was just about everyone else.

Even former players were relieved, including Basketball Hall of

Fame player Isiah Thomas, a former union president during his time

with the Detroit Pistons.

”I’m extremely pleased and relieved,” said Thomas, now the

Florida International coach. ”Basketball in society is extremely

important for social reasons, for economic reasons and the game has

always been used to bring people together – not tear them apart.

That being said, I think the owners and the players realized that

they are not bigger than the game. By them coming together and

continuing to work together, I’m pleased with that. That’s the way

it should be.”

Thomas added that he got very concerned when lawsuits started

getting filed. Had the sides actually starting waging battles in

courtrooms, Thomas feared the worst.

”Once the owners and players are going to court, relationships

are severely damaged and severed forever,” he said. ”Now that

they’re back working together to better the game, those

relationships have a chance to continue to exist.”

It should come as no surprise that the Heat – who will be among

the favorites for the NBA title when the season gets rolling – were

overjoyed by the news. LeBron James, Mario Chalmers and even team

owner Micky Arison told their Twitter followers that they couldn’t

wait to get started.

”I feel like my kids on X-mas day! So juiced!!,” James


Added Chalmers: ”I been waitin for this moment since June

12th,” referring to the day the Heat watched the Mavericks

celebrate winning the NBA title in Miami. It’s expected that the

teams will open up against each other on Christmas in Dallas,

marking the first time that finalists from one year were matched up

in a season-opener since Utah and Chicago in 1999 (another season

shortened by a work stoppage).

But not everyone was celebrating.

”With high school and college basketball now playing, who

really needed the NBA?” asked Ed White of Allentown, Pa. who was

at Saturday’s NJIT-St. Francis (NY) men’s basketball game in

Newark. ”I think they’re going to lose some fans because of this.

The NBA treats its fans like they really don’t care. I’m personally

offended by both the owners and the players’ attitudes through all

of this. They play for the fans. … I think people will go back

eventually, but not right away. It’s always about the money. The

owners always want more. The players always want more. But when was

the last time someone spent money to see an owner score a basket?

The owners should realize that.”

Teams largely remained quiet, since the league’s lockout rules

technically are still in place – and likely will stay that way

until the deal is actually ratified and signed.

Players, however, turned en masse to Twitter to share their

views, which seemed overwhelmingly positive.

-”Anddd we’re back! On a brighter note, America’s unemployment

rate just lowered,” wrote New York’s Landry Fields.

-”Music to my ears this morning. Huge thanks goes out to all

NBA fans for staying patient!,” said his Knicks teammate, Andy


-”Thanks to all our fans for your patience. Amazing season

comming!!!” added New Jersey’s Kris Humphries.

Many details of the agreement are still getting finalized, but

it’s clear that owners gave in on a few issues to get the deal done

– including the plan that players would get no more than 47 percent

of basketball-related income. 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.

For players, getting those 3 BRI points back is no small victory

– each point is worth around $40 million annually.

”I woke up and saw that they had come to a tentative agreement,

and I was a little bit surprised that the owners had given more,”

said ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy, the former NBA coach and brother of

Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. ”I think the players did a

good job in extracting as much as they were going to extract from

ownership it seems. And I like the length of the season. I think

that should be the length of the season under normal


That may have been the first time the word ”normal” could be

used in an NBA discussion in months.

It’s not done, but it’s closer than many thought possible.

”Glad lockout is almost over,” veteran Jason Richardson wrote,

”but I hope each player read the fine print and make the right


Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at