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: Feb 25, 2008
Posted on: November 9, 2011 3:05 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

This might sound stupid and prob since im not following this but what race is Kessler?? 

Since: Oct 6, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 2:05 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Apr 14, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 2:00 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Kessler opens his mouth before he engages his brain.  We can commemorate his poor decision making by sticking his face and name in various entries in the dictionary.  These include: loser, predator, derogatory, divisive and inappropriate.  If you have not had the opportunity to meet Kessler, here is a recent photo of . 

Since: Oct 10, 2011
Posted on: November 9, 2011 1:45 pm
This comment has been removed.

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Since: Sep 30, 2008
Posted on: November 9, 2011 1:28 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

I agree. But ya really gotta can the extremely stupid you/basketballs graphic at the top of this page. It's kinda hard to take you seriously at that point.

Since: Oct 23, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 1:11 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go


These race baiting clowns both need to be fired ASAP!

Since: Sep 25, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:46 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Nicely done, agree 100%

Since: Dec 10, 2006
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:38 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Kessler needs to go. He has proven he is part of the problem, not the solution. Many of the players don't have the education or brains to analyse the offer so Kessler spouts off about plantation owners. This of course hits the players deep in that emotional part of the brain where fear and anger about a horrible past for a whole race of people lurks. Kessler: low blow! innappropriate and downright disgusting. Implying multi millionaires are like slaves, working for "the man." While average folks lose their homes.

What an insult. If there are any plantation workers involved in this it is the parking lot attendents, ushers, security, servers who are now out of work thanks to the owners AND players.

It is more like two groups of plantation owners fighting over who will get more of the wealth.

Goodbye Kessler- don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Since: Feb 16, 2007
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:21 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

Kessler crossed the line in regards to his insults of Stern and the owners, but it's not racist to say your black clients are being treated like plantation workers.  It's just the opposite, it's sticking up for them.  Maybe it's sticking up by using completely over dramatic methods, but it's still sticking up.  If anything, it's unfairly calling the owners racists.  The one huge mistake in all this for Kessler, is that until his actions, it's looked like the owners were the villians.  This takes the spotlight momentarily off Stern who is the true villian and lets him deflect it towards the players.  I agree they should remove him to keep Stern looking like the bad guy he really is. 

Since: May 17, 2008
Posted on: November 9, 2011 12:08 pm

Kessler apologizes, but still needs to go

“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.”
Well, the players are not partners any more than a worker on the assembly line at Ford is a "partner" in Ford Motor Company, they are employees, valuable employees, and the NBA is treating them like employees.  Players will be "partners" when they invest tens or hundreds of millions of dollars into teams, arenas, employees, etc and take the risk of losing money along with the owners rather than paying no league expenses and receiving guaranteed contracts.  That said, the idea that anyone is treating a group with an average annual salary of $5.4million/yr as "plantation workers" is just ludicris.

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