Blog Entry

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Posted on: November 9, 2011 11:53 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 12:57 pm
NEW YORK -- In a lockout during which most days have been hideous for the players, this one had gone surprisingly well.

They'd presented a united front, made clear to David Stern's owners that they can have their 50 percent already and expertly shifted the pressure of this $4 billion fiasco back to their opposition.

By accepting the economic terms of the owners' offer Tuesday, the players were saying this to the world: If there's no deal Wednesday, Thursday or soon, it won't be because we weren't willing to compromise. It'll be because $3.3 billion over 10 years isn't enough for the owners. It'll be because the NBA wants to hold things up over some obscure system mechanisms that most fans can't relate to -- and for which clear compromises are available.

But here's the thing: Even on what had been a brilliant day for the players, it wasn't such a brilliant day -- for the same reason their days have grown increasingly miserable during this lockout. A great day, one that could go down as ultimately triggering the end of the lockout, was overshadowed by more unfortunate, divisive venom from the union's outside counsel and lead negotiator, Jeffrey Kessler.

Kessler, whose exploding-head theatrics and over-the-top rhetoric had twice contributed to significant blow-ups of the talks recently, told the Washington Post in an interview that occurred before the players' meeting and news conference Tuesday that the NBA was treating players like "plantation workers." No, really, he did.

“To present that in the context of ‘take it or leave it,’ in our view, that is not good faith,” Kessler told the Post in a telephone interview Monday night. “Instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.”

Not only did this verbal assault lack cleverness -- it's a variation on the term commentator Bryant Gumbel had used to defame Stern recently, drawing universal scorn and ridicule -- but it was also offensive. It was not only offensive to Stern, but also to Kessler's clients, 80 percent of whom are black.

Once again, Kessler had poured the kind of needless gasoline on the lockout's smoldering fire, just as he's been doing for weeks.

“Kessler’s agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal,” Stern said in a response to the Post. “Even if it means injecting race and thereby insulting his own clients. . . . He has been the single most divisive force in our negotiations and it doesn’t surprise me he would rant and not talk about specifics. Kessler’s conduct is routinely despicable.”

So you know what? At this important hour in the talks, a moment when the two sides are coming together at 1 p.m. in Manhattan to try to save the season, let's do something far more productive than Kessler shooting off his mouth and dragging this out for more lawsuits and billable hours.

Let's tell him to button up, get out of the negotiating room and hit the road.

Kessler, the union's lead negotiator and the lockout's chief destabilizer, need not show up at that meeting Wednesday. He needs to be fired.

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Kessler told me on the phone Wednesday, even as the league and union were arranging the bargaining session. “But anybody who actually knows what my role has been in these and other negotiations, it has been to work and strive towards a deal. That’s what I’ve always done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

But all the evidence is to the contrary, and Kessler’s apologies Wednesday – released individually to various news outlets as opposed to en masse from the NBPA – didn’t change that.

“The comments that I made to the Washington Post took place late Monday night after a very long day,” Kessler said. “I look back on those comments as reported and I realize my choice of words was inappropriate. I am sorry about that. I intend to call commissioner Stern and apologize for my inappropriate choice of words.

“I made these comments as a passionate advocate for the players, but I can understand that they can be misinterpreted and viewed as being offensive,” Kessler said. “At this point, we need to put any distractions aside and work to try to get a deal to save the NBA season.”

Perfect advice, to put distractions aside – starting with Kessler. The NBPA should take Kessler’s advice and put him aside

“I did not intend to make any statement that would be interpreted as suggesting any type of racial issue,” Kessler said. “I don’t even remember if the comments were on the record or off the record, but in any event, my use of those words in that context was inappropriate.”

So Kessler had his say, and now I have mine: Go offend somebody else. Go bill somebody else. The players have paid you enough, and have paid enough for your inflammatory tactics that benefit only you.

When union executive director Billy Hunter sees Stern Wednesday, he should open the conversation with an apology on Kessler's behalf. Then, he should deliver news that will be music to the commissioner's ears: "We are no longer retaining Mr. Kessler's services."

Watch Stern skip from Olympic Tower to the East Side hotel where they’re bargaining. Watch how fast a deal gets done.

Let me be clear: Kessler shouldn't be fired only for bringing a plantation reference into the labor talks, or for having the poor taste to allude in any way to professional athletes being comparable to slaves. This was merely the last straw, the final indignity for players who are being led down a divisive, destructive path that has benefited Kessler and his law firm, Dewey & LeBoeuf, more than anybody.

Kessler is the same attorney, and Dewey & LeBoeuf the same firm, that represented the NFL players during their recent lockout. The NFLPA let Kessler play bad cop for a while, but union chief DeMaurice Smith recognized that he was too emotional and needed to take a back seat when it came time for a deal to get done.

Finally, it is that time in the NBA talks. Time for Kessler to step aside.

Having closed what was once a $10 billion economic gap with the owners over 10 years, the players don't need any more rhetoric. And they don't need Kessler's divisive tactics, offensive speech, and quite simply, annoying presence in the bargaining room. The deal is 99 percent done, the players won't be needing Kessler's services for a decertification lawsuit, and he should simply go away before he blows things up again.

After the two most recent implosions of the talks, Kessler stepped to the microphone and fanned the flames. After a meeting that broke down over system issues, Kessler said the talks had been "hijacked," and spun a fantastic fairy tale about how Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen had torpedoed the negotiations -- even though all he did was sit in the room and, unlike Kessler, not say a word.

Then on Sunday morning, at a time that called for decorum and a delicate touch to cleverly turn Stern's ultimatum right back on him, Kessler went bazookas again. He called the owners' tactics "threats" and "intimidation," and characterized Stern's portrayal of the league's proposal "a fraud."

Even some hard-line members of the union leadership have grown uncomfortable with Kessler’s flame-throwing approach.

If Kessler missteps this frequently and spectacularly during his brief encounters with reporters, just imagine how bad it gets when he's in a room yelling at Stern and his billionaire owners – and vice versa -- for 16 hours at a time.

The job of a lawyer is to advocate aggressively for his clients. But while I've accused Stern of speaking with a forked tongue, and accused the league's lead negotiator, Adam Silver, of double talk -- and while I fundamentally believe that the owners are pushing for way too much here -- Stern and Silver have at least conducted themselves professionally in public. Kessler? He's been professional, all right. A professional wrecking ball.

Kessler is right: The players can't afford any more distractions that could imperil this deal. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic that the union will take my advice and kick Kessler to the curb, the way he was kicked to the curb late in the NFL negotiations. The union, to its discredit, decided not to issue its own apology for Kessler's offensive comments. When I asked Kessler if he had any intentions of stepping aside, he said, “Absolutely not. If you knew the real dynamics in the negotiating room, you wouldn’t say that.”

But that doesn't change the fact that it's time for Dr. Doom to go.

There are level-headed, respectable professionals on the union’s negotiating team, and they will take it from here. Hunter, Derek Fisher and general counsel Ron Klempner are more than capable of closing the deal. Klempner is the one writing the union's proposals, anyway, has the best grasp of the subject matter, and has consistently displayed the kind of reason and spirit of compromise that is conducive to getting a deal done.

Kessler? You can go find some more people to offend, more athletes to prey on, and more hours to bill. Your services, and your inflammatory tactics, are no longer needed here.

To borrow the signature phrase of the lockout, how u? Or better yet, how u sleep at night?

Since: Oct 2, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 7:02 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Oh, yeah, guys reading essentially trivial side-bars about lawyers for unions really want the NBA to "go away," and just can't wait to watch high school players heaving bricks up and down the floor.  Pa--leese: pro ball is so far beyond the lower levels it's not worth comparing.  But maybe fans aren't really fans of the sport as such, instead just wanting to root and toot.  As far as Kessler's concerned, he spoke truth, but power don't like it much, do they?

Since: Jun 20, 2010
Posted on: November 9, 2011 5:27 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

I hope the NBA never comes back ever, college Bball is plenty for the real basketball fan and Hockey is a much better sport to watch anyway.  By the way you got to love when a white guy pulls the black race card BS, I thought it would have happened a long time ago.  It's 2011 people, I got news for you, the race card doesn't work anymore, were beyond that.  Look around you!

Since: Aug 25, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 5:11 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Thank goodness College b-ball has begun and High School b-ball is right around the corner.   I am a fan of the game, not of this idiocy................  Oh wait, does that make us fans Plantation Owners???    Just what IS that guy smoking / drinking ???    Yes, it is time for the man to enjoy his retirement.

Since: Sep 5, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 5:08 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

I think this whole thing could have been avoided if (a) teams could terminate contracts early (make the buy out reasonable - you should be able to buy out a player for 10% of their deal unless they got hurt playing for the club) and you lowered the minimum amount to be paid by each team.  If a team wants to field a team for $15 million per, so be it.  That way, if you are spending too much on salaries, you can fix it. 

I would like to say to the folks who keep saying "fire the players and replace them with people who care"... the guys at the end of the bench care, but they suck (on an NBA scale, anyway).  Nobody is coming out to watch Sasha Pavlovic play against Earl Boykins, I don't care what promotion you put together.  The stars do generate the money, not front offices/franchises.

Anyway, fire Kessler if that is what it takes, but whatever you do, get it done and lets play ball already.

Since: Dec 20, 2009
Posted on: November 9, 2011 4:39 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Let me get this straight - a Union attorney inflaming talks during negotiations - no way......Never heard of that.  
And of course we all know that Attorneys are paid by the hour - so do you think he wants this thing to get resolved?  Of course not, because he stops being paid.  Come on Players - get your head on straight - there is so much Ego out there it reminds me of the Presidents of the Universities during realignment talk.  Everyone wants their name in the paper or to be the one who is the important one who makes the deal.

It's insane - the damage has been done to a league that was slowly coming back to being somewhat important again and now no one will care and they will lose out on season ticket holders.  I guarantee I am one that won't go to a game again until they realize that it's the fans who pay their salary.   

Since: Nov 24, 2009
Posted on: November 9, 2011 4:34 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

JimmyGusto, liking Kessler does not mean he is not an idiot. He obviously is in this for one thing, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and more MONEY for his firm. If the NFLPA kixked him to the curb then the NBAPA should as well. Personally I do not care if the NBA plays this year at all. They make a lot of money to be complaining about be ripped off of more money. These guys make more money in a year that most of us will make in our entire life. When is enough enough?

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 3:55 pm

While they are firing Kessler...

The NBA should fire all of the players and get people who don't have to make an average of $5.5 million a year while the core audience can't afford to attend games.  Kessler is an idiot, but he wouldn't have said what he did if there wasn't a sizable portion of players who feel the same way.  Anyone making over $5 million a year who seriously thinks there is a "plantation mentality" in the NBA needs a reality check.  
They should all have to work at Wal Mart for $8 an hour for a few weeks and see how terribly they are "enslaved" by the NBA. 

Since: Aug 15, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 3:43 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Could everyone imagine how the US would look these days had plantation workers been paid 5 million dollars a harvest season????? What a moron Kessler is and should be backhanded for no other reason than he's a dumba$$.. Can this whole NBA thing please just blow up and go away?? If these morons can't understand that they are employees of a corporation who pays them millions of dollars then they are retarded!! People in this country are begging for jobs that pay maybe 20k a year and can make that work , yet these fools(players) feel cheated?? Just go away already folks, nobody has any sympathy for your "poor us" antics

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 3:10 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Wow, Ken. Tell us how you really feel. I am totally with you on this one. Kessler has been the hard knot in the lumber all trough the process. Without Kessler we would be enjoying basketball games in the NBA tonight. And here is the thing - the players are now accepting the very economic terms Kessler has sounded off against. The players, his clients, want to play. Kessler wants an anti-trust suit. The players want to compete on the basketball court. Kessler wants to compete on the legal court.

Kessler and his firm stand to reap millions of dollars in an anti-trust suit. When the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to their contract terms it was still Kessler trying to rally support against them in keeping the anti-trust suit going. And the thing is the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found Kessler's contrived decertification of the NFLPA union a sham. So why are players employing this guy at all? That is a puzzle. Perhaps he has helped get some issues more to the players' liking. But he remains a liability. So good call, Ken. Nice to see your well-placed wrath come out. May the parties agree quickly with a vote soon to follow.

Since: Dec 1, 2007
Posted on: November 9, 2011 3:06 pm

Shockingly embarrassing

Can you imagine a board meeting of a Fortune 500 company going as badly as these NBA negotiations have gone?  The bottom line is that, as a Hawks fan, Shaq was right when he said the horrible Joe Johnson deal is why the owners need change.  Awful players should not be guaranteed inflated salaries.  If you work at McDonald's and you burn hamburgers you are fired.  With a deplorable economy it is hard to look at overpaid athletes playing a kids' game and feel sorry for them. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or