Commissioner David Stern says union attorney Jeffrey Kessler is largely to blame for the NBA's stalled labor talks after Kessler told The Washington Post that the owners are treating the players "like plantation workers."
Kessler, who also represented the NFL Players Association in their collective bargaining negotiations this summer, told The Post on Monday that the owners' latest offer to essentially split basketball-related income in half was not fair to the players. Stern said Sunday night that players had until the close of business Wednesday to accept the offer, or face a far stricter version.
"To present that in the context of 'take it or leave it,' in our view, that is not good faith," Kessler told the paper on Monday night before the union announced Tuesday it would not accept Stern's offer. "Instead of treating the players like partners, they're treating them like plantation workers."
Stern, in a phone call with The Post on Tuesday, called the labor situation "dire" and placed blame squarely on Kessler's shoulders.
"Kessler's agenda is always to inflame and not to make a deal," Stern told the paper, "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."
A union source told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher on Tuesday that the NBPA does not condone what Kessler said and that Kessler will be reprimanded for bringing racial rhetoric into the negotiations.
Sources tell ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that union executive director Billy Hunter has been adamant about keeping race out of negotiations. The union purposefully steered clear of recent remarks by HBO's Bryant Gumbel in which he first compared Stern to a plantation owner.
Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, who does not have an official role in the negotiations, condemned Kessler's remarks, saying it's "ridiculous" to suggest that Stern is racist and that it's OK to disagree with him but that you "can't attack the man and what he stands for."
The NBA "has more minorities in powerful positions than any other league," Johnson said.
The union said Tuesday it could not agree to Stern's "ultimatum" offer, but would ask for another meeting with owners before Stern's Wednesday afternoon deadline in an attempt to end the lockout and save the season.
In an interview on NBA TV on Tuesday, Stern said that whether he agrees to meet "would be guided by the labor relations committee."
The league's current labor proposal calls for players to receive between 49 percent and 51 percent of basketball-related income, but Kessler said Sunday night the proposal was really 50.2 percent for the players and called the chance of them ever reaching 51 percent a "fraud" and an "illusion."
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.