In announcing a new collective bargaining agreement, commissioner David Stern also predicted it would be the final NBA labor deal before he steps down.
"I would say it's fair to say this is my last. This is a 10-year deal, with a re-opener at six," he said, explaining that either side can opt out after six seasons. "I'm not planning to be here certainly for the 10 and probably not the six."
Sources in the league office denied rumors Stern's retirement was imminent. He is 69.
Stern's first work for the league came in 1966 as outside counsel. He rose to commissioner in 1980 and has guided the league through the eras of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, achieving dramatic new heights of popularity. For many NBA fans, he is the only commissioner they have known.
Asked later if he had already decided when he would retire, Stern said "no." Asked if he would simply retire whenever he felt like it, he said "yes."
Stern batted away a question about how the lockout and new CBA may affect his legacy, saying he does not believe in legacies.
He did reflect on how the new agreement would be viewed long-term: "To me, when we started this tortured journey, more robust revenue sharing was a very important goal that we set. It required bringing along a number of teams that had grown up, so to speak, without major obligations to revenue share. I feel very good that amongst the people that voted for this deal, the large markets were not there objecting or standing in the way at all.
"The vote didn't reflect any breakdown by market size. What it reflected was a joint determination to restructure the league so that the dollars would be available for our teams to be more competitive."
Deputy commissioner Adam Silver, widely regarded as the leading candidate to replace Stern, ducked a question about his own conversations with Stern about the commissioner's stepping down, citing "commissioner-deputy commissioner privilege."
Henry Abbott is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.