NBA, referees agree to deal, ending lockout

BRIAN MAHONEY | 10/25/2009, 7:14 p.m.

The regular referees made the call. They're coming back to work. The referees union and the NBA agreed on a two-year contract Friday, Oct. 23, ending a lockout of more than a month and saving the league from using replacements when the regular season starts.

The officials voted to ratify the deal that was reached earlier this week. No details of the vote were provided, nor were terms of the agreement.

"We are pleased to reach this agreement," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "The negotiations extended further than either side had hoped, but when our regular season tips off on Tuesday we'll have the best referees in the world officiating our games."
The referees union didn't comment. The 57 referees were set to begin a three-day training camp Saturday and be ready when the regular season starts Tuesday night. The league used replacement officials during exhibition play.

The referees' contracts have usually been for five years, but the NBA consented to a two-year deal at the request of the union, which hoped it could renegotiate sooner with the economy hopefully in better shape.

The sides agreed on a salary structure that would give the refs a slight raise in the second year, but they remained apart on proposed changes to the referees' pension and severance packages, as well as a plan to develop younger officials by having them work in NBA games.

The contract between the league and the National Basketball Referees Association expired Sept. 1, and the league announced on Sept. 18 that it was locking out the officials, saying they had rejected its final contract offer.

The NBA decided to go with replacements late last month after the referees rejected a deal the league said its negotiators had already agreed to.

That raised the possibility of the league starting the season with backup officials for the first time since 1995. But progress was made in a meeting this week at league headquarters that included Stern, who rejoined the talks this week at the request of the referees.

He previously had withdrawn from negotiations after the referees' lead negotiator Lamell McMorris criticized the commissioner's behavior.

"It was always our intention to make a deal and our hope. I thought that perhaps the rhetoric had gotten a little bit too heated and it would be better for me to withdraw," Stern said earlier Friday during a conference call.

"But it was requested by the other side that I return and that they were coming in to make a deal and they asked me to be there, and I thought I owed them out of my respect to them to honor that request."

The league used a roster of 62 replacements, mostly from the NBA Development League and WNBA, during the lockout. Stern said the backups "responded very well" and predicted that many would referee NBA games again.

Replacement officials were criticized for calling too many fouls, though the amount decreased later in the exhibition season, which ended Friday night.

"As the preseason went on, they were better," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "I don't think they were arrogant, or anything like that. They gave the explanations, and they were doing the best they could.

"The first couple (games) were just foul after foul and call after call, and there was no rhythm to the games," Adelman added. "After that, I thought it settled down fairly well. They just called things differently than the normal officials. They're pretty much going by the book."

AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.