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NBA players, owners ratify collective bargaining agreement

Finally, basketball is back.

NBA Commissioner David Stern announced Thursday that the owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement, the final steps to ending the 161-day lockout that began July 1.

That allows teams to officially open training camp Friday and for the free-agency period for the 2011-12 season to begin, at 11 a.m. PST.

The NBA’s regular season will begin Christmas Day, the start of a shortened, 66-game schedule that ends April 26.

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The two sides agreed to a 10-year labor deal, with an opt-out clause after six years. The deal will save the owners about $250 million a season, but the “soft salary cap” mostly remains, something the players fought hard to keep.

“It’s a new beginning in a way,” Stern said at a news conference in New York. “We think it’s a very good deal, and it’s going to withstand the test of time.”

The players’ association said that more than 86% of the 200 players who voted were in favor of ratifying the deal. The owners approved the deal by a 25-5 vote. The owners also agreed to an expanded revenue-sharing plan among the teams, another step the players wanted.

Part of the agreement calls for a 50-50 split between owners and players of basketball-related income; the players had a 57% split of the BRI in the last labor contract. Overall, player salaries were cut by 12% in the new deal.

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The deal also stipulates that there will be a higher luxury tax for teams that exceed the salary cap.

The maximum length of players’ contracts is now five years (down from six) and maximum annual salary raises will be 7.5% for teams re-signing their own players and 4.5% for teams signing other teams’ free agents.

Among other terms of the labor deal, the NBA changed its drug program to include off-season testing, increased penalties for violations involving performance-enhancing drugs and blood testing for human growth hormone once the test is validated by a neutral panel of scientific experts.

broderick.turner@latimes.com

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