At a time of enormous popularity and prosperity for the N.B.A., the league and the players’ union reached an agreement in principle Wednesday on a seven-year collective bargaining agreement that ensures labor peace through the 2023-24 season.
Representatives from the N.B.A. and the National Basketball Players Association were facing a Thursday deadline before which either side could have opted out of the current agreement. That deal, which dates to 2011 and was for 10 years, would have remained in place through the end of the 2016-17 season even if either side had opted out. But the league and the union were pre-emptive in hashing out revised terms on issues like roster size and player salaries, averting the threat of another work stoppage next season.
The new agreement must be ratified by players and team owners, the league said. To give both sides enough time to review the agreement and vote, the opt-out deadline was extended to Jan. 13.
The players agreed to a 51 percent share of basketball-related income — roughly the share that they have under the current agreement — according to two people briefed on the negotiations who requested anonymity because the deal had not been ratified. But revenue has increased vastly in recent seasons, thanks almost wholly to a television deal that will generate an average of $2.66 billion in annual payments through the 2024-25 season.
The new agreement, however, expands the definition of what qualifies as basketball-related income, further deepening the pool of money to be split between the players and the owners. A 51 percent share of revenue next season will be worth at least $1.5 billion more than what the players earned in 2011, when they had a 57 percent share of revenue.
The average player salary is expected to be $8.5 million next season, the people briefed on the negotiations said, and $10 million by 2020-21.
As for the schedule, the league will reduce the numbers of instances in which teams play games on consecutive days, a dreaded situation known as a back-to-back — a topic of increasing concern among players, coaches and league officials. As if to underscore the issue, the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday rested LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies, a day after the Cavaliers had defeated the Grizzlies in Cleveland.
Players want to preserve their bodies by avoiding the wear and tear of back-to-backs. The league, in addition to recognizing those concerns, would prefer to avoid the negative publicity of sending supercharged teams like the Cavaliers on the road without their top stars.
Under the new agreement, the regular season would start about a week earlier to create more days off. The number of exhibition games would also be reduced.
One rule that will for now remain unchanged is the N.B.A.’s requirement that players be at least 19 and one year removed from high school before they are eligible for the draft. But that rule could be revisited.
This was the first labor deal with Michele A. Roberts as the head of the union and with Adam Silver as the league’s commissioner, although Silver had experience in these types of negotiations as the longtime deputy to his predecessor as commissioner, David Stern. Unlike Stern, who could be adversarial when it came to protecting the league’s interests, Silver often presents himself as just as much of an advocate for the players as he is for the owners he represents.
Among his first acts as commissioner, Silver engineered the removal of Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers after TMZ published recordings of Sterling making racist statements. It was a move that helped endear Silver to many players.
Silver’s negotiations with Roberts were notable for their lack of public acrimony — understandable, perhaps, given the huge pile of money they were divvying up. But it was a stark change from 2011, when the league and the players’ union, then led by Billy Hunter, engaged in bitter talks that resulted in a five-month lockout and a season curtailed to 66 games.
As a part of that agreement, the players made major concessions to the owners, including a reduction in their share of basketball-related income, to about 51 percent, from 57 percent; shorter contracts; and smaller raises.
The players’ union was also undercut by infighting that led to the ouster of Hunter after an audit charged him with nepotism and abuse of union resources. The union went more than a year without a new chief until Roberts, a former partner at one of the most prestigious law firms in Washington, was elected by the players in July 2014.
Despite not having a background in labor relations or in sports, Roberts immediately sought to be a strong presence for the players by questioning the league’s business structure. She went so far as to accuse Silver of violating the collective bargaining agreement.
Her public posturing proved an effective way for her to build trust among the players and to establish herself as a clear, forceful voice in the wake of so much dysfunction. The first female head of a major sports union, she also showed that she was willing to challenge the league. When she pitched her candidacy for head of the union, she told the players, “My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”
In recent months, though, all the strong words subsided as the sides began to negotiate a new deal in hopes of avoiding the sort of impasse that cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars in 2011. By Wednesday, with the league awash in cash, it was clear that such a standoff was not happening anytime soon.