New York: NBA owners and players made it official on Thursday, ratifying a new deal that brings the protracted lockout to a close and paves the way for a Christmas start to the season.
The move means training camps and what promises to be a hectic free agent trading period will open on Friday.
Commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver announced the deal at a press conference on Thursday.
"I think most importantly we're back to basketball," Silver said. "I think legacies aside, it would have been terrible for the players, for the teams, our fans, concessionaires, everyone involved if we had lost more games than we had, so I think that's most important."
Owners voted 25-5 to approve the deal. The players' union said 86 percent of the more than 200 players who voted electronically approved the deal.
The 10-year contract allows either side to opt out after six years. Under its terms, owners will save up to a quarter billion dollars a year.
However, the players were able to hang onto the soft salary cap they battled to maintain.
The NBA season had been scheduled to start on November 1, but the two sides were unable to reach a new agreement to replace the one whose expiration saw owners lock out players on July 1.
After a tentative agreement was reached on November 26, the NBA announced its plan for a compressed 66-game schedule -- 16 shorter than normal -- which will force every team to navigate demanding stretches at home and on the road that they would not normally endure in a full season.
The season begins with five games on Christmas Day, including the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Chicago Bulls and NBA champions Dallas taking on Miami in a finals re-match.
The regular season is scheduled to conclude April 26 and the playoffs will open two nights later.
Players had begun voting electronically even before the last few details were ironed out on Thursday morning.
Owners have also agreed to expanded revenue sharing among teams, which it is hoped will lead to greater competitive balance between large and small market clubs.
Stern called the agreement of both plans "a watershed moment" for the NBA.
Stern said the "tortured journey" of sometimes bitter negotiations, the loss of games and even the once-threatened loss of the entire season was worth it because he believes more teams in the league will have a real chance to be competitive.
"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."
Owners, claiming $300 million in losses last season among 22 of the league's 30 clubs, went into negotiations saying they needed major changes in how they divided some $4 billion in revenue and stricter controls on salary spending.
When talks broke down on November 14, the players disbanded their union in order to pursue anti-trust legal action against the league.
Once the tentative deal was reached on November 26, the players had to first vote to re-form the union before they could vote on the eventual collective contract.
"While it's not perfect, the deal addresses significant issues on both sides in a very productive way, we believe," Stern said.
The financial issues of the deal took up so much negotiating time, so some other issues were left unchanged.
The draft minimum age limit will remain 19 years at least through the 2012. The league would like to raise the age to 20, while players would prefer to have no age restrictions.
Plans for blood testing for human growth hormone likely won't be implemented this season.