NBA players react as deal draws closer

MIAMI -- 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 end.

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 optimistic."

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 wrote.

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).

Even Miami fans were celebrating.

"It's all I wanted for Christmas," Heat fan Danielle Sofia said, shortly after learning the lockout was nearing an end.

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 Rautins.

• "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 circumstances."

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 decision."