A Love Letter To Regal, Renegade NBPA Director, Michele Roberts

We’re sick of casual basketball fans, and even some diehard fanatics, telling us NBA players — who have the highest average per-year salary of all four major sports — make too much money. Their salaries are capped, teams are capped, and they split the Basketball-Related Income (BRI) with the owners after losing the 2011 CBA negotiations. These same people often sing paeans to America’s free market economic system, too.* New NBPA Director, Michele Roberts, spoke out against the *billionaire* owners in a conversation with ESPN the Magazine, and now we’re in love.

The first woman to head up the player’s union of a major north american sport, Roberts, 58 this past September, was raised in a South Bronx housing project and was once the head of the trial division for the Washington DC public defender’s office. She. Does. Not. F**k. Around.

“My past,” she told the room of 117 NBA players when addressing them inside a grand ballroom at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas before their NBPA director vote, “is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

Marry us Michele, and we’ll devote the rest of our lives to whatever you’re working on.

The former trial lawyer for Akin Gump, and more recently Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, is as perturbed by NBA owners’ reluctance to admit they’ve played absolutely no role in the NBA’s current popularity. If anything, NBA players have succeeded in lifting the profile of the NBA despite the incompetence of many owners. Per ESPN:

“Why don’t we have the owners play half the games?” Roberts said, speaking in her Harlem office to ESPN The Magazine. “There would be no money if not for the players.”


“Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money,” she added, pausing for emphasis. “Thirty more owners can come in, and nothing will change. These guys [the players] go? The game will change. So let’s stop pretending.”

This is a woman who personifies everything we love about women. She’s tough, she’s capable, she’s incredibly intelligent, and she doesn’t suffer any fools. In a word, she’s perfect.

“I don’t know of any space other than the world of sports where there’s this notion that we will artificially deflate what someone’s able to make, just because,” she said, talking about a salary cap — a collectively bargained policy that, in its current form, has constrained team spending in the NBA since 1984-85. “It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

While this is leaning towards the Horatio Alger and Ayn Rand enthusiasts among our more intellectually hoodwinked American constituents (and yes, Mark Cuban loves Atlas Shrugged, even though we usually like what he says), it’s her comprehension of the American philosophy supporting the Adam Smith-laced American Dream that’s been decidedly lacking among the NBPA crowd.

Yeah, maybe we sound like Thomas Sowell Townhall ramblings, but we don’t care (though, it’s gross to ever get lumped in with Sowell). Michele Roberts gets it.

Michele, let the fools know what capping a player’s salary means for those players:

“I can’t understand why the [players’ association] would be interested in suppressing salaries at the top if we know that as salaries at the top have grown, so have salaries at the bottom,” she said. “If that’s the case, I contend that there is no reason in the world why the union should embrace salary caps or any effort to place a barrier on the amount of money that marquee players can make.”

And what about the age minimum, which Adam Silver is trying to increase to 20 years old…

“It doesn’t make sense to me that you’re suddenly eligible and ready to make money when you’re 20, but not when you’re 19, not when you’re 18,” she said. “I suspect that the association will agree that this is not going to be one that they will agree to easily. There is no other profession that says that you’re old enough to die but not old enough to work.”


And about that “cap smoothing” (™Zach Lowe) when the new TV-rights money comes in? No way no how says Michele — let it shoot up to near, or above, the nine digit range:

“You can call it a ‘spike,’ but it’s also just an accurate reflection of what the revenue is,” she said. “At first glance, [cap smoothing] is not that attractive, I won’t lie. But we’re studying it to figure out if there really is some advantage for players.”

What about the 82-game regular season grind that can wear even the most durable players down before the second season starts in late April? Yeah, Michele’s got that, too:

“Every time a player gets hurt, I think, my God, they really are pushing their bodies,” she said. “And back-to-backs, those are the ones I really find disturbing. … So the answer, of course, is that everybody wants a shorter season. The tension is, Will that mean less money? And that’s something we need to talk about and think about. … I don’t think it would hurt the game to shorten the season.”

And about the recent comments from Silver saying that a third of NBA franchises still aren’t running at a profit — this after the Milwaukee Bucks (THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS!) sold for over half a billion dollars — she’s as skeptical anyone else would be who is paying attention:

“I initially just started laughing, to be honest with you,” she said of her reaction to that statistic. “I know that as a result of the last CBA, at least 1.3 billion dollars in revenue that would have otherwise been on the players’ side is now on the owners’ side. I see the valuations of these teams going though the roof. … How much more do you need to make money?”

Roberts is unafraid to take on the NBA heavies who make up the 30 NBA owners. They’ve been making up rules like they’re a drug cartel, essentially, and Roberts sleeps with The Wealth of Nations under her pillow at night (we’re guessing):

So how has the NBA managed to successfully institute legislation that, in Roberts’ view, is both opposed to this country’s capitalistic principles and her players’ best interests?

“No one wants to say it out loud, but it’s a monopoly,” she said. “And were there alternatives, they wouldn’t get away with it.”

“I’ll give the league credit,” she added. “They have done a great job controlling the narrative.”

We’re probably biased — we date a trial lawyer, and we’re obviously pro-women, sometimes to a fault — but Michele Roberts might be the best thing to happen to NBA players since MJ asked for his own brand from Nike. She’s not afraid to speak out about the hypocrisy when a bunch of robber baron NBA owners turn the league into a socialist institution to prevent the players from accumulating real, lasting wealth.

Are there are a lot of problems with some of the things she’s talking about? Absolutely. But we’re not going to quibble with her right now. After the seat for NBPA executive director sat empty since Billy Hunter resigned on Feb. 16, 2013, NBA players have outdone themselves by electing Roberts to shepherd them into the next phase of a — hopefully — player-friendly NBA.

Then again, the NBA has issued a rebuttal, per Devin Kharpertian of the Brooklyn Game, and we agree with his preface before the release:

Still, we’re in love with Michele. No question — even if the louche Skip Bayless was also extolling her virtues this morning.


Thoughts on Michele Roberts’ recent comments?

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