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

Aug 17, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

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.

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