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Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009

NBA, referees reach new pact

NEW YORK (AP) The real referees will work the real games.

News photo
Final preparations: Charlotte's D.J. Augustin goes up for a layup in front of DeMarre Carroll of the Grizzlies in preseason action on Friday. Memphis won 95-92. AP PHOTO

The NBA and its referees union agreed on a two-year contract Friday, ending a lockout of more than a month and saving the league from using replacements when the regular season starts.

The officials ratified the deal that was reached earlier this week in a vote Friday night. 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 did not comment.

The referees will begin a three-day training camp Saturday and be ready when the regular season starts Tuesday. The league had been using replacement officials during exhibition play.

The contract between the league and the National Basketball Referees Association expired Sept. 1, and the league announced its was locking out the officials on Sept. 18, 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 replacement officials for the first time since 1995. But progress was made in a meeting this week at league headquarters that included Stern, who had previously pulled out of the negotiations after referees lead negotiator Lamell McMorris criticized the commissioner's behavior.

Stern rejoined the talks this week at the request of the referees.

"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 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.

Negotiations broke down multiple times. Stern angered the union when he abruptly ended one negotiating session, feeling the officials were reneging on previously agreed upon items. The league later accused the union of doing that again after the full roster of referees rejected a deal that had been reached in principle.

McMorris pulled out after that collapse, though he also returned and took part in the meeting this week.

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.

"We of course knew we have to provide them with extra support, coaching and training, but they've responded very well," Stern said during the conference call.

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