- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - Surprise, relief, joy and even some caution.

Such was the reaction of many NBA players and fans Saturday, amid news that the labor dispute which led to the cancellation of hundreds of games and threatened the entire season was nearing an end.

No schedules are out, the collective bargaining agreement has not been drafted and formal votes on the deal remain unscheduled. Still, for the first time in months, optimism seemed to take the lead over pessimism on the NBA’s emotional scoreboard.

“The journey now begins!!” soon-to-be Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, the league’s No. 1 draft pick, wrote on Twitter.

Well, soon enough, anyway.

Barring either side rejecting the deal, training camps will open Dec. 9, with the league’s first three games set to be played on Christmas Day. The Utah Jazz invited fans to start calling again to discuss ticket options, the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks wrote “Go Mavs” on Twitter shortly after the middle-of-the-night news conference to announce the breakthrough, and Shaquille O’Neal recorded a brief video to show his excitement.

“Haven’t crossed the finish line yet,” wrote Orlando guard J.J. Redick, “but there’s definitely a reason to be optimistic.”

The league and the union announced around 3 a.m. that they had struck a tentative deal calling for a 66-game season, meaning many owners _ and players _ were asleep, unaware of the news until they awoke. Miami guard Dwyane Wade was text-messaging with an associate shortly after 4 a.m. Eastern, and his reaction was subdued given the lateness of the hour.

“All I feel right now is `Finally,’” Wade said to The Associated Press.

Free agent Shane Battier said he was getting “mad love” from fans in Memphis, Miami, Oklahoma City and Houston _ teams that all figure to be in the mix for his services.

“I am happy it looks like we’ll get to start winning our fans back,” Battier wrote. “Thanks for the patience. Need to read new details before I pop the bubbly.”

Later, Battier poked fun at himself, saying that tweet made him sound like “a conservative old man,” adding that he was happy to just talk basketball again.

So was just about everyone else.

Even former players were relieved, including Basketball Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas, a former union president during his time with the Detroit Pistons.

“I’m extremely pleased and relieved,” said Thomas, now the Florida International coach. “Basketball in society is extremely important for social reasons, for economic reasons and the game has always been used to bring people together _ not tear them apart. That being said, I think the owners and the players realized that they are not bigger than the game. By them coming together and continuing to work together, I’m pleased with that. That’s the way it should be.”

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