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Union attorney says owners treat players like “plantation workers”

Nov 8, 2011, 8:44 PM EDT

NBA Commissioner Stern holds a news conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat in Miami Reuters

In case you think the NBA owners and players might tone down the rhetoric and start to negotiate like adults, we bring you this.

Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler — one of the top sports labor attorneys and the nation — went back to the “plantation” reference with NBA Commissioner David Stern (as Bryant Gumbel had done), and Stern responded with plenty of venom of his own.

The Washington Post has the gory details, starting with Kessler’s thoughts on Stern’s ultimatium.

“To present that in the context of ‘take it or leave it,’ in our view, that is not good faith,” Kessler, who also represented the NFL players in their labor dispute with the NFL, said in a telephone interview Monday night. “Instead of treating the players like partners, they’re treating them like plantation workers.”

In a phone call Tuesday, Stern blamed Kessler for the stalled talks and said he deserved to be “called to task” for the remark.

“Kessler’s agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal,” Stern said, “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.”

Stern and the owners don’t really like Kessler, in case you didn’t pick up on that. The league’s pre-emptive lawsuit trying to block union decertification (filed months ago) mentioned Kessler by name a number of times.

With the NBA and its players flirting with Armageddon, this kind of inflammatory language just makes it harder to get a deal done. Plantation — meaning slavery — references always bring a lot of baggage with them. While you can try to make a contextual argument, it’s hard to do when the median salary in the NBA was $2.3 million last season.

In the end, Kessler and Stern have to sit in a room together and pound out a deal if an NBA season is to be saved. And right now, they are acting like four year olds fighting over Halloween candy. Sadly, we can’t just send them both to their room for a timeout.

  1. sknut - Nov 8, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    Why is Kessler so stupid. I know he did this to inflame and to rally the players, but this was way over the top. Nobody is forcing anybody in the NBA to play in the NBA. Hunter and Fischer need to tell Kessler to shove it and just do his job.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:05 PM

      Didn’t they have to throw Kessler out of the room in order to make progress in the NFL talks? I might be misrembering that though. Anyway, I do absolutely remember that he was one of the main forces behind decertifying the NFLPA and didn’t seem terribly interested in making a deal.

  2. eaglessuperfan - Nov 8, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    Enough already with the slavery references. I am so sick of this. They are payed millions to play a game. Not beaten and treated like property. Kessler needs to go away.

    • entropy13 - Nov 9, 2011 at 12:01 AM

      Since when did “plantation workers” suddenly become “slavery references”? It may have been the case in the 19th century, but CURRENTLY there are still plantation workers, but they aren’t slaves in its “truest” sense, only in a “metaphorical” sense, since because they are minimum wage (and usually immigrants) the owners have greater “power” over these workers. The workers don’t have any leverage at all.

      • reastnt - Nov 9, 2011 at 7:20 AM

        > Since when did “plantation workers” suddenly become “slavery references”?

        Yes, Kessler was clearly making the point the NBA owners treat NBA players like minimum wage immigrants, who are only slaves in a metaphorical sense. Everyone knows there’s no overtones of slavery when you accuse someone of treating people as plantation workers.

        (For the humor-impaired, this is known as sarcasm.)

  3. mlp3180 - Nov 8, 2011 at 8:56 PM

    The NFL and NFLPA didn’t get their deal done until Kessler was out of the room. The guy is awesome with flame wars and charging his clients over a thousand dollars per hour. Why would he possibly want to contribute to games actually being played? He’s making too much bank by doing his part to draw this thing out.

  4. rabidmike - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:14 PM

    Jeffrey Kessler that name looks familiar…Michael Jackson murder? No. Sexual abuse in Happy Valley? Not, sure. NFL Lockout weasel lawyer? Maybe. Oh, I know, he’s just pissed Kim Kardashian dumped him.

  5. therealhtj - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    In related news, “Stern says Union attorney treats players like ‘ATM Machine.’”

  6. yankeesjetsknicksrangers - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    As real as the racial disparities are in this country (black unemployment usually runs double than that of whites) race is an effective tactic to use in negotiations. The media (predominantly white) will steer clear of scrutinizing the validity, or at the very least criticizing such comments for fear of saying something stupid and possibly risk losing their jobs.

    Inevitably such comments divide us along skin color and tend to bring out the worst in people.

    • 1historian - Nov 10, 2011 at 11:30 AM

      In 50 years we have gone from Bull Connor to Barack Obama

  7. goforthanddie - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    I would LOVE to be a slave for a guaranteed 7-figure contract.

  8. lameasish - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:37 PM

    Ahhh, the old race card, being paid millions to play a sport, yet they complain…give it a rest. The funny thing about all this is that the owners do not need the players to continue to make money, they were already rich (via their other business ventures). Last time I checked, a guy making 50k a year cannot afford a professional sports team, therefore you must already be wealthy. Players NEED the owners to become rich. Accept what they offered or make nothing just like you do playing in these put together games that all players seem to be making up. As much as I love all sports I wish we all did not hold them in such high regard, there is no reason why a guy who can put a ball in a hoop should be paid so much, yet a doctor who saves lives or one of the many other people on this plant that actually make a difference get paid absolutely nothing compared to them. Then again, most people will think this post is dumb and athletes are superior to everyone else… until they turn 35 and you want them traded or to retire.

  9. lameasish - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:40 PM

    Planet, not plant, I am only correcting because I know how these posts go…

  10. mrf47 - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    Kessler just is still pissed that he got his ass kickd in the NFL negotiations.

  11. reupjosh - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:43 PM

    Iameasish: could not gave said it better.

  12. ocgunslinger - Nov 8, 2011 at 9:57 PM

    Hey…..if a deal is done his billing @ $1,500 an hour stops. Gee….wonder why more progress is not made and why he is inflaming the situation.

  13. steviekthr3e - Nov 8, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Ok so we have adrian peterson covering the nfl with the slave reference, i lost count of nba players/reps using the slave reference, good ol gumble for the media, whos gonna use it in the mlb? Big papi? Hanley ramirez? Brian wilson?

    Just rediculous these ppl keep using this reference. How bout we give them a $7.50/hr “salary” and we can whip those “slaves” into reality 40+ hrs a week?

  14. kandh2004 - Nov 8, 2011 at 10:33 PM

    Avg. salary is 2.5 million dollars if they think that is slave wages then tell them to switch positions with the person at a Walmart or any other medium wage job. This guy is a joke did the same thing during the NFL lockout. I will have 2.5 million reasons why if they don’t take a deal I will be done with basketball

  15. twitter:Chapman_Jamie - Nov 8, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    just like the NFL. this guy is destroying the game.

  16. bmorehomeofthewire - Nov 8, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    Typical ignorant responses. Folks we are aware that the new racism it to deny that racism exist.. I don’t give a damn how much money the players make.,,,

    • yournuts - Nov 9, 2011 at 1:55 AM

      Did you ever hear of reverse racism? Always playing the race card?

    • lblock07 - Nov 10, 2011 at 9:21 AM

      You are absolutely right bmorehomeofthewire. It is easier to ignore racial issues by saying that person is pulling “the race card” then to truly analyze the racial history in America and how those issues are still affecting us today. And when I say analyze the racial history I’m not talking about knowing that slavery was bad or that inequality still exist, in this sense that is a superficial understanding of the problems.

      I don’t understand why so many of you guys are projecting the feelings of gumble and kessler onto ALL of the players. If I’m not mistaken, both of these guys DO NOT play in the NBA and both of them are known for making controversial remarks in their respective careers (sport analyst/lawyer). What does that have do with the players? Even if 5 players admit they share the sentiment, realize it is dangerous and counterproductive to overgeneralize ANY group of people.

      Anyway, imo Stern is not a racist, at least of what I can judge. He is an arrogant, condescending, mean old cuss who is equally likely to talked down to any one whom he deems as under his control. ex. Jeff Van Gundy

  17. santolonius - Nov 8, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    men who play a game with a ball and make millions and feel oppressed.

  18. bmorehomeofthewire - Nov 8, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    Educate Yourselves People

    • yournuts - Nov 9, 2011 at 2:02 AM

      bmorehomeofthewire, perhaps you should educate everyone as to why the players feel like the owners are plantation owners when the players can go anywhere they want and work where they want to, and for as much as the market bears? Are they being forced to play here or can they go to France, Israel, China, Russia, Spain or any other country to play or get a job based upon their work history.
      Inquiring minds want to know?

      • rreducla1 - Nov 10, 2011 at 11:24 PM

        Sure. And the owners are free to sell if they are losing money.

        Like most of your posts, this has no point and is just you venting.

  19. worldbfree4me - Nov 9, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    None of you clowns it! While use of the word slavery is harsh, the way Stern is playing this game no pun intended is slavish. If I’m a teacher and the prevailing wage is 46k / year and Ohio or some other Union Busting State tells me that I should get paid 30k, they are in-effect treating me like a “Slave!”

    • yournuts - Nov 9, 2011 at 2:07 AM

      worldbfree4me, I don’t think the salaries went down, did it? It’s about the BRI. The BRI expired and the problem is that the owners lost money and the players didn’t lose a thing. So your comment make it sound like the players lost 50% of their salary, which it didn’t.
      Secondly I am insulted that the race card was brought up. Totally insulted.

      • rreducla1 - Nov 10, 2011 at 11:21 PM

        Yeah. After all, that was another poster called yournuts who has said–several times–that antone who is pro-player is in their “posse”. And that was another guy named yournuts who talked about players and their “hos.”

        So yes, I can see why you are insulted.

    • fx1718 - Nov 9, 2011 at 6:22 AM

      Slavery = $00.00/hr for work done, no choice, no free will. Thats the same as taking a 16k pay cut?

      If taking a pay cut = Slavery than it has happened during every recession in every industry since time and economies began.

  20. 1historian - Nov 9, 2011 at 6:19 AM

    If there any sign that this is a dispute between grown-ups we (the gum-chewing public – GCP) might care.

    This story serves to inform us that such is not the case.

    BTW – Us white folks lost the monopoly on racism LONG ago.

  21. 1historian - Nov 9, 2011 at 6:20 AM

    Correction – if there WERE any sign

  22. buckifan4life - Nov 9, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Typical move. When the tantrum doesn’t work and all else fails, throw out the race card.

    Where’s Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson at? They need some face time…

  23. cosanostra71 - Nov 9, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    Kessler is a turd

  24. basketballfan4life - Nov 9, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    Quote of the day: “The new racism is to act as if racism doesn’t exist” Beautiful.

    Tell me, is it using the race card when a European refers to an NBA player as a inner “city thugs”. monoply is on racism. u are an ass jack for even saying that dumb as shit. A monopoly is always had by the inventor

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