The National Basketball Players Association appointed Washington, D.C. attorney Michele Roberts as its new Executive Director yesterday. Receiving 32 of a possible 34 votes with the remainder abstaining, Roberts becomes the first woman to head a North American professional sports union.
Washington, D.C., attorney Michele Roberts has been voted in as the new executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, making her the first woman to head up a major North American sports union.
At the close of a chaotic Monday filled with meetings, conference calls, presentations and an array of emotions, NBPA executive committee members and team player representatives cast 32 votes in favor of Roberts as the successor to the ousted Billy Hunter, six more than she needed for election.
The NBPA has been without lead legal counsel since firing Hunter at the All-Star break in February, 2013. After conducting an audit of Hunter’s 17-year tenure as executive director, the Player’s Association revealed wholesale concerns surrounding Hunter’s business practices. He hired unqualified family members, misused funds for personal gains, and took more vacation days than allowed in addition to other irregularities.
NBPA President Chris Paul and VP Roger Mason, Jr. alluded to Hunter’s gross improprieties in statements on Roberts’ appointment, insisting the players “have their union back” amid heretofore unseen participation in the election process.
“Today, we started out by telling the players how monumental today was,” said Paul, the president of the players’ association. “We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting, to give their input and feedback. After all the hours and time [put in by] our executive committee, along with an amazing search committee that helped throughout this process, it’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts now as a part of our team…
“One particular member from our search committee … asked her a very tough question in the interviews and [vice president] Roger [Mason Jr.] almost fell out of his seat after she finished giving her answer,” Paul said. “Even though she’s a female, she’s very relatable to a lot of our players. I think that’s what really hit home for not only myself but some of these other guys as well…”
“It really is a new day for our union,” Mason said. “It started off with the players saying, ‘We’ve had enough, we’re taking our union back’ a year and a half ago with Billy Hunter. We decided we wanted to be inclusive with all our players and find not only a successor but a new-age players’ association executive director. We’re fortunate throughout a long and rigorous process, we found one.”
Despite a booming league, Roberts and the NBPA have a difficult road in front of them. The players will surely opt-out of the current CBA in 2017, running the risk of another lockout just six years removed from the 2011 work stoppage. A new television rights deal, the age-limit for draft prospects, and the possibility of HGH testing are highlights of a long list of questions facing the players, too.
To that end, Roberts says that she and her team have already begun prepping for inevitable CBA negotiations. She also stressed group-think in leading the NBPA, an approach that no doubt appealed to the players in the wake of Hunter’s reign.
“They’ve got their union back, and I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go,” Roberts said. “It’s going to be a team that’s going to empower them to be able to do their business as they decide.
“I am a bad woman, but I’m not that bad,” Roberts said. “We are going to have a team, a very strong team, what I call a team of gladiators, that’s going to help these men and women, again, go in the direction they choose to go. It’s a new day. It’s not a one-person, Superman, ‘I’ve got this.’ It’s going to be a team…”
“We started yesterday preparing for CBA negotiations,” she said. “[Whether the players will opt out] is not a question you direct to me. My clients are going to tell me where we’re going, and I’m going to make sure we get there.”
117 players attended the seven-hour meeting where Roberts, Dallas Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery, and Information Technology Industry Council CEO Dean Garfield each gave 45-minute presentations stating their case for election. Voting took place once the candidates finished speaking.
Free agent forward Louis Amundson echoed Paul and Mason, Jr.’s comments about Roberts’ vision of a unified voice while opining that gender was a positive consideration of her forthcoming leadership, too.
“I think she wants to have that kind of environment, where everybody is putting in their two cents,” Amundson told USA TODAY Sports. “I think maybe the gender thing helps that cause, just because she’s not as intimidating maybe as some of the other guys would be…”
Paul was far more diplomatic in addressing Roberts’ gender, correctly noting that the NBA has long been sports’ foremost leader in equality of all fabrics.
“On behalf of our players, it shows how open minded our players are,” he said. “With any of the candidates it wasn’t about race, gender, anything, it was who is going to be the best person in that position. Like she said, from Day 1 of interviews she tackled that question head first and she did it in front of our executive committee, the search committee and the same thing with our player audience.”
The players have their union back and are wholly confident Roberts is the right person to lead them into an uncertain future. Above all else, let’s just hope it doesn’t include a lockout in three years’ time.
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