As the National Basketball Association begins its abbreviated 50-game schedule tonight after a six-month lockout that nearly scuttled the season, a group of New York lawyers will be watching with a palpable sense of relief.

The lockout effectively ended on Jan. 5, after a bleary-eyed group of six men, including five lawyers, from the league and the players union negotiated through the night to reach an 11th-hour agreement on a new collective bargaining pact and avoid becoming the first major sports league to cancel an entire season due to labor unrest.

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