Jeffrey Kessler apologizes for remark

Updated: November 9, 2011, 11:11 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NBA union attorney Jeffrey Kessler has apologized for saying that owners are treating players "like plantation workers," adding that he doesn't want to become a distraction during the tense negotiations.

"The comments that I made in The Washington Post took place in an interview late at night Monday after a very long day," Kessler said in a statement. "Looking back, the words that I used were inappropriate; I did not intend to offend. I was merely passionately advocating for the players."

The words that I used were inappropriate; I did not intend to offend. I was merely passionately advocating for the players.

-- Union attorney Jeffrey Kessler

After the owners presented a take-it-or-leave-it offer to players, Kessler told the newspaper: "To present that in the context of 'take it or leave it,' in our view, that is not good faith. Instead of treating the players like partners, they're treating them like plantation workers."

Commissioner David Stern then said Kessler is largely to blame for the stalled labor talks. Kessler said he would reach out to Stern.

"I intend to call commissioner Stern and offer my apologies for the remarks," he said. "It is very important that there be no distractions now and that the parties try to make a deal to save the season." Kessler, who also represented the NFL Players Association in its 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.

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. Sources told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard that a meeting is expected in New York at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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