It’s been a bad year for Jeffrey Kessler.
At times marginalized and at other times flat-out removed from the NFL labor talks despite years of service to the NFL Players Association, the ability of the league and the union to strike a deal without his involvement fueled the perception that his zeal and belligerence at times crosses the line into the realm of counterproductivity.
Amid speculation that the peacetime, post-CBA NFLPA will utilize Kessler’s services far less frequently, Kessler had some consolation: He was still the chief outside counsel for the NBA Players Association.
But Kessler’s tactics, which included a public spat with Commissioner David Stern after comparing the treatment of NBA players to slavery, ultimately resulted in the NBA Players Association following the lead of the NFLPA and putting Kessler on the bench.
Not long thereafter, the two sides struck a deal.
While some would claim I’m the only one who points out negative information about Jeffrey Kessler, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports had this to say regarding the move: “Several ownership sources were enthusiastic over the removal of polarizing Players Association counsel, Jeffrey Kessler, as the players’ lead negotiator. As one ownership source said recently, ‘Remember, the NFL got its deal done when [Kessler] finally was out of the room.’”
That said, Kessler deserves partial credit for getting the situation resolved. He orchestrated the decision to shut down the NBA Players Association and to file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, taking a page from an NFLPA playbook that he authored. And it was a stroke of genius to retain David Boies, who represented the NFL in its antitrust battle against the NFLPA, before the NBA could hire him.
Sure, Boies’ decision to jump to the other side of the “v” could have been problematic once things he said, verbally or in writing, while representing the NFL were used against NBA players. But it never got to that point. The players’ decision to push the proverbial red button caused the NBA to move from its bottom-line position, paving the way for an agreement.
And so the key to using Kessler is to best understand his role. He’s a litigator, not a negotiator. Let him be the bad cop to create leverage, and then let the good cop come in and turn that leverage into a win-win accord.
Either way, the NBA will be back on Christmas Day. And I can go back to ignoring pro basketball completely.
UPDATE 10:14 p.m. ET: Contrary to multiple media reports, a source with knowledge of the true state of affairs tells PFT that Kessler was not removed from these talks. Per the source, Kessler was in California visiting his new grandchild, who was born earlier this week. Per the source, Kessler was involved in the talks constantly via phone on Friday, and he returned to New York on Saturday to assist with the final details of the deal.