LAS VEGAS – Eighteen months after Billy Hunter was fired, the National Basketball Players Association elected a new executive director,
Amid chatter of unhappy agents and with former Jerry Stackhouse speaking publicly against the process before it was done, the NBPA executive committee was unified in their approval of Michele Roberts, a Washington D.C. trial lawyer.
After a search process led by Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, three finalists — Roberts, Dallas Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery and tech industry CEO Dean Garfield — each gave 45-minute presentations to a group of 117 players in attendance at a Las Vegas hotel. Roberts then received 32 of a possible 36 votes from team reps and executive committee members.
“We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting, to give their input and feedback,” NBPA president Chris Paul said. “After all the hours and time 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.”
“Anytime you get 90 percent of the vote or more and full participation from the entire body,” secretary-treasurer James Jones added, “it signals that guys understand that this is a very big deal. This is a big decision and we did not want our guys to take it lightly, to do as we’ve done in the past, which is rubber stamp a process. When you have discussions, you have emotions, but as you see with the result tonight, our players are unified. Outside influences, outside forces may look at what happens in our room differently than we do. But we all knew that our players want what’s best for the union and we showed it.”
Paul made it clear that Roberts was more than impressive in both her interviews and in her presentation on Monday.
“From Day 1 in interviews,” Paul said, “she tackled every question head first. She did it first with the executive committee and search committee, and then today with our players.”
The fact that she’s a woman, now the first woman to run a major North American sport’s players union, was not a factor.
“My sense was the only thing people cared about was my resolve,” Roberts said. “If I had been a man, who exuded less confidence in my ability to do the work, I don’t think I would’ve got the job.
“I’d like to believe, as I’ve believed for most of my career, that I’ve earned something because of who I am and what I do, not because I’m a woman.”
“Even though she’s a female,” Paul said, “she’s very relatable to a lot of our players.”
In a text to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, one committee member said simply, “She’s a beast.”
Stackhouse, a former NBPA vice president who wasn’t allowed to watch Monday’s presentations because he’s no longer an active player, didn’t seem all that impressed. Shortly before the vote was taken, he insinuated that the executive committee forced Roberts’ election upon the players, because the other two candidates didn’t come close to passing muster.
But Stackhouse admitted that he would have loved the job himself. And the members of the executive committee didn’t seem concerned about his agenda.
So now, they can finally move forward and begin preparing for the next round of collective bargaining, likely to take place in 2017. Roberts said that preparation for those negotiations began “yesterday.”
“We understand that this is a defining moment in sports,” NBPA vice president Roger Mason Jr. said. “A $2 billion sale [of the Clippers], a lot of good things going on in our league, some of the most recognizable faces around the globe. And we understand that next time we have a chance to go through collective bargaining, we have a whole lot more to talk about, and the discussion is going to be different.
“I think what we wanted to do is to make sure we had a leader in place who understood that vision, who realized that opportunity at hand and who could give us a vision on how we can get where we want to go.”
Though Roberts doesn’t have much of a basketball background — she’s a fan who watched a lot of hoops with two older brothers — she’s a leader. She’s also clearly a fan of the TV show “Scandal”, calling the team she intends to build “gladiators,” like the group of fixers from the hit ABC drama.
“What we’re talking about here is predating or allowing for a system that will empower these players to run their union,” Roberts said. “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.”