Union attorney says owners treat players like “plantation workers”

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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.