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Deal Reached; NBA Season Mostly Saved


This is WEEKEND EDITION NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The goose that lays the golden egg has been saved. There's a tentative deal to salvage an NBA season, after a marathon bargaining session that lasted into the small, tiny hours of Saturday morning. Owners and players representatives emerged with an agreement that ought to lead to a new contract. And if all goes according to plan, fans will be watching the first games of a shortened season on Christmas Day. NPR's Mike Pesca has been covering the lockout for us and joins us now. Mike, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Not much is known - this much is certain - time will tell. Do we know any of the details about this deal today?

PESCA: Yeah, we're pretty sure that the players and the owners will be splitting revenue somewhere near 50-50, and this marks big comedown from the players, who were under the last deal making 57 percent. But that's what this whole negotiation was about - that the owners looked at their books and expressed dismay that so many teams were losing money - they said 22 out of 30. And even though players disputed that particular amount, everyone knew that the economics of the NBA, the players had been getting paid so much that the league wasn't working out. Now, that it took so long to figure out what the new split would be, you know, shows you the acrimony involved, shows you the distrust involved. But today for the first time, there's a bright orange orb on the horizon.

SIMON: Now, was there a clear winner between the large market and smaller market teams?

PESCA: Yeah, I think this was a major - you know, within players there was a faction. Obviously, within any labor group, guys who just got in the league are going to have different wants and needs than guys who'd been there for a while. But among the owners, we knew that the small-market teams, which sometimes is a misnomer, but at least the teams who aren't worth as much, were really, really dead-set on getting as much as they could out of the players. There was a lot of cohesion among owners. We saw examples, like Mark Cuban, who's the owner of the Mavericks, which are a big-market team that makes a lot of money and would have done just fine if the players hadn't taken as much of a haircut. He was with the smaller-market teams. So, I think that and David Stern's, you know, tough negotiation tactics were one of the things that made the players come down so much in salary.

SIMON: There are a number of items that need to be worked out, according to what the folks said last night - early this morning, I should say. Do we know what they are and how tricky could they be?

PESCA: Well, I think that the items might be a little bit tricky. I mean, things like drug testing will get worked out. And they might be tricky in terms of very finely detailed, but it's not going to hold up the season. And except the fan that really enjoys knowing the itty-bitty parts of each player's contract, it's not really going to affect the fan experience that much. Somewhere during the course of the season, some guy who was maybe going to help a team won't get signed and they'll talk about, oh, it's a casualty of the mid-level exception or luxury tax - and you'll hear that phrase. But for the most part, this isn't going to affect the fan experience at all.

SIMON: Do we know what the rest of the season's going to be like?

PESCA: No, we don't, but there'll be some rejiggering 'cause they want every team, I'm sure, to be able to play every other team and a couple of games between teams might drop off. It's going to be a 66-game schedule. The playoffs will start when the playoffs were going to start, and that's significant, because the playoffs will end when they had been scheduled to end, and that affects the Olympics and the choosing of the Olympic team. So, Mike Krzyzewski's pretty happy; USA Basketball's pretty happy. You know, teams from Switzerland, Angola and Uzbekistan maybe not as happy.

SIMON: Do you expect fans will be so disenchanted they won't show up in droves?

PESCA: Yeah, that's an excellent point. I really don't. I really think the fans are going to come back. And there's been a lot of doomsday predictions, not only in terms of fan reaction but in terms of if we could ever get this deal done. And it was odd because I talked to or I read a lot of media and people who cover the NBA seem to say, yeah, it's going to be very tough to get a deal. But I talked to a lot of labor economists who said even though players in the NBA make a lot of money, it's still a labor agreement and it always seems darkest before the dawn, which is a cliche, but one that labor economists use quite often. And the other thing is I really do think the fans will come back. This is their entertainment. And just take a look around Twitter or anywhere else, where fans are expressing their opinion - very much is in the minority is that's it, you guys are dead to me. Very much in the majority is the sense - I mean, yay, basketball's back. Let's get back to it.

SIMON: NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.