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Michele Roberts, new NBA players union director, is a person to be reckoned with

Aug 17, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

Michele Roberts Michele Roberts

Just a few weeks ago there were frustrated, venting-to-repoterts agents who were concerned that the person the NBA players were electing to lead their union, the person that will sit across from Adam Silver in 2017 and negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, lacked experience and vision.

I’m not seeing it that way.

Read Andrew Keh’s profile of new NBA players union executive director Michele Roberts in the New York Times and that is not the impression you get at all.

Roberts is a bad ass.

She said she was all too aware that if she was selected, she would represent several hundred male athletes in the N.B.A.; she would deal with league officials and agents who were nearly all men; she would negotiate with team owners who were almost all men; and she would stand before reporters who were predominantly men.

She did not flinch. “My past,” she told the room, “is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

She’s an experienced litigator with a fantastic courtroom reputation — the kind of thing that can translate over to the negotiating room.

More than that, she fills the power vacuum with a plan. The union voted out Billy Hunter as union executive director at the 2013 All-Star weekend — a year and a half ago. There were false starts in finding a replacement until the players turned the process over to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who narrowed the list down to three including Roberts. Then there were a lot of concerns (enter the agents again) that within sight of the finish like the union booted out Johnson so they could make their own decision.

The union executive committee liked Roberts. You can see why, she has a plan.

Roberts begins the job next month, and she plans to essentially upend the union, which she dismissed as “a mom-and-pop shop” under her predecessor.

“It was clearly run by Hunter without much input from other people,” she said during a long interview at her office in Washington. “It’s completely inconsistent with the way any entity, let alone any union, should be run.”

She means business. In the professional, not nepotism sense. Which will be a nice change for the NBA union.

Union president Chris Paul was among the players frustrated after the last CBA negotiation, the players felt like they gave a lot. Now the economics of the NBA have turned — as evidenced by the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers — and the players want their share. The players are not going to get percentage points of the “basketball related income” back (they will get 51 percent of that league revenue this year) but there are plenty of other ways they can make inroads.

Right now the sense is that come 2017 there will be a summer lockout but it’s not going to last into the season — everyone is making too much money. Roberts will be at the heart of how all that turns out.

And the owners best not underestimate her.

  1. ProBasketballPundit - Aug 17, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    “My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

    I’ll bet that, in her past, Kevin Johnson had a bone and thought she was somebody he could sleep on.

  2. raidordie - Aug 17, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    If a man who became the head of a woman’s anything in sport would have said that he would be crucified. I love the “liberal” media double standard.

    • Kurt Helin - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:24 PM

      That may be the most idiotic, tone deaf comment in the history of this site. Which is saying something.

  3. joroberts10 - Aug 17, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    What the heck is a repotert?

    • sportsfan18 - Aug 17, 2014 at 11:14 AM

      A typo, like EVERYONE makes…

      I mean, you asked so I answered…

  4. JMClarkent - Aug 17, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    If her and Anthony Davis had a kid the eyebrows would be flawless.

  5. mackcarrington - Aug 17, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    The best thing about her is when she gets up in the morning she gets right down to business. I mean, she doesn’t waste any time messing around with her hair. I like that.

    • therealhtj - Aug 17, 2014 at 1:45 PM

      She clearly doesn’t waste time dating or trying to look her best. That look is all business and appears like she really don’t GAF.

      Will it make a lick of difference in negotiations? Probably not. She may not make the gaffes Hunter did during the next negotiations, but the owners will still get their way.

      My only hope is the next CBA provides for a better product. Getting rid of cap clogging contracts would be a start, but that only really helps the fans. A concern neither side has.

      • 6thsense10 - Aug 17, 2014 at 2:57 PM

        Actually getting rid of the cap period would be a start. Baseball seems to be surviving just fine without these caps…in popularity and monetarily. The cap is only there to protect owners against themselves.

      • therealhtj - Aug 17, 2014 at 6:09 PM

        It’s not MLB. One Lebron on your team, and your practically a lock for the conference finals. Give the big markets unlimited payrolls to pay the top players in the league, and small markets will only get good enough for their top talents to leave during their first crack at free agency.

      • mackcarrington - Aug 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM

        The problem with getting rid of the cap would create the same situation that baseball has. Which is, looking to get rid of some of your best players if you don’t think your team is going to be in contention that year. Without the cap, for example, the Knicks would have dumped Carmelo as soon as they realized they weren’t making the playoffs. This is what baseball does. Imagine if the Packers started the season at 2-8, and started shopping Aaron Rodgers around. You would start seeing salary dumps all over the place.

      • muhangis - Aug 18, 2014 at 2:19 AM

        6th sense, the cap protects fans as well (who ULTIMATELY pays these player’s high salaries??)

        I’m in support of a cap, yet a soft cap to give teams options and flexibility.

    • muhangis - Aug 18, 2014 at 2:05 AM

      Gotta look good when conducting business though, just how the world works.

  6. Jackofallsports - Aug 17, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    Did the union hire Olivia Pope?

  7. chilomane - Aug 17, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    the god must be crazy…to think a woman elected by NBA union

  8. kchoya - Aug 17, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    ” — the kind of thing that can translate over to the negotiating room.”

    Not really. I know a ton of litigators that suck at mediations and negotiations.

  9. BrownsTown - Aug 17, 2014 at 7:21 PM

    Webster is heading up the NBAPA? That came out of nowhere!

  10. muhangis - Aug 18, 2014 at 2:16 AM

    Nothing against women in high up positions (I’m likely voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as I’ve looked her for sometime), I’m generally for it, but this sudden wave in the NBA is eerie. Often a woman in this type of position are guided by just *having something to prove* out there, and in the meantime take an OVERZEALOUS approach to the job. …. I don’t mind a woman taking the position if she can be fair minded..

    But don’t do something in such a hard approach for the sake of that, just to prove the men wrong. [Something Helin’s naivete hasn’t grasped as of yet]

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