Stern criticizes Falk, says agent is 'trashing own clients'

The Associated Press

NEW YORK In an escalation of the heated rhetoric surrounding the NBA's labor mess, an angry David Stern on Friday blasted agent David Falk, saying he is ''casting aspersions'' on some players who have endorsed the proposed labor deal.

Five days before players are to vote on whether to dissolve their union or accept the labor agreement, the NBA commissioner accused Falk of disparaging his own clients and distorting components of the deal. The controversy over the new collective bargaining agreement has divided the players, pitting such superstars as Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing against Karl Malone and John Stockton.

''He'll stop at nothing,'' Stern said of Falk, who represents Jordan and Ewing and is a leading proponent of disbanding the players' association and pursuing an antitrust suit against the league.

''He is so intent on killing the deal at all costs, he is trashing his own clients and their negotiations.''

Falk said, in comments published in Friday's New York Times, that a number of prominent NBA players who endorsed the deal after it was negotiated Aug. 8 would have been hurt financially if the proposed work rules had been in force when their current contracts were implemented.

''Every guy who has done an extension with a raise greater than 20 percent would have been pre-empted,'' Falk said, referring to contract extensions that give players sizable raises. ''Almost every guy there would have been pre-empted.''

Under the proposed agreement, a veteran with a four- or five-year contract can extend it any time after the third year, getting 20 percent raises. Previous rules have permitted many players to renegotiate their contracts to obtain multimillion-dollar ''balloon payments'' near the end of a contract's term.

On Friday, Falk said he did not intend to disparage such players as Stockton, one of his clients, or Malone, his Utah Jazz teammate, and Houston's Clyde Drexler, both of whom have benefited from renegotiated contracts with sizable raises. But he said both players were standing by a deal that would hurt other similarly situated players in the future.

Drexler will get $9.7 million next season via a one-year extension signed midway through a five-year deal.

''It's unfortunate people who have profited won't stand alongside the others united,'' Falk said.

Falk took issue with what he termed Stern's personal attacks on him.

''I think David Stern is a very savvy, sophisticated guy who I have great respect for,'' he said. ''The only person who has been personalizing this is him.''

Rather than criticize the group of 16 players who made the initial push for decertification and who are plaintiffs in the antitrust suit, Stern has blamed the interference of agents for his league's labor disruption, which includes a 56-day-old lockout.

''His comments about his (Falk's) own clients are questionable,'' Stern said. ''What does that tell you about the motivation of David Falk? Does anyone have a doubt about the motive?''

Falk, in turn, said his only motive is to protect the interests of his clients.

''If David Stern was as interested in maximizing return for players as I am, he wouldn't have locked them out and taken away medical benefits,'' Falk said.

Players are set to vote on Aug. 30 and Sept. 7 whether the union should continue to represent them in collective bargaining. Results of the secret ballot vote will be announced Sept. 12.

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