The rise of NBA player profits, empowerment, widespread entrepreneurship and the use of leverage in forcing trades and building Super Teams can be attributed to the tenure of NBPA Executive director Michele Roberts.
While NBA owners and fans aren’t too thrilled about LeBron James and Anthony Davis’ attempt to circumvent the rules with their midseason trade demands, Michele Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association is loving the latest trend of all-star players dictating their terms for a more favorable situation.
When Roberts, 63, became the first female head of a sports labor union after she rose from public defender to a successful career as a trial lawyer, she immediately announced that her loyalty was to the players and getting them a larger piece of the billion dollar pie that the predominantly Black league puts into the pockets of white owners.
Roberts inherited an NBPA in disarray and weakened by a Judas predecessor in Billy Hunter, an owner’s pet who dealt in reckless nepotism and was shady with the finances. Roberts restored credibility, honor back to the position and clearly drew a line in the sand. Her toughness, intelligence, character, and commitment to the players has allowed Roberts to attract elite brand names into leadership roles on the executive committee, including Bron and Steph Curry.
“Our goal when we hired Michele was to take back our union,” said NBPA President Chris Paul. “With her leadership and guidance, we have not only accomplished that but we have also established the NBPA as one of the strongest and most active unions in all of professional sports.”
Roberts, one of five children raised by a single mother in a housing project in the Bronx, has defended players’ interests with the same vigor and integrity that she used to voluntarily defend death row prisoners in disciplinary hearings at San Quentin State Prison while still a student at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.
According to ajc.com, while working for the D.C. public defender’s office and then several of the city’s most prestigious law firms, Roberts carved a reputation for being fiercely loyal to clients and forging strong connections with juries.
Since Roberts took over the NBPA 2014, player empowerment has been at an all-time high. Her negotiations facilitated a new agreement reached late in 2016 between the union and the NBA, which increased the money pot for players while providing fewer back-to-backs and more physical relief. The deal ensures peace and no work stoppages through 2024.
What else do you expect from Forbes’ “2018 Most Powerful Woman In Sports”?
The big issue in the next collective bargaining negotiations was supposed to be the prohibitive and racially oppressive one and done rule. That’s not an issue anymore as the NBA instituted a change that allows players to enter the G-League right out of high school and make up to $100,000 per year.
Financially, players are doing great.
However, money doesn’t always equate to power. That’s why players wear “I Can’t Breathe” shirts and give social messages at the ESPYs and criticize the President and exert leverage on owners to move them to teams of their choice.
The owners are still all white with the exception of Michael Jordan. There’s so much work to be done culturally when it comes to the NBA’s white owner – Black slave mentality. That’s what people mean when they say pro sports is still a plantation. There’s no Black ownership and for years players have been treated as high-price cattle to be sold and auctioned off at an owner’s whim.
The next phase of Roberts’ impact is being felt in how players value their “choices” — or in the case of Rich Paul, LeBron Jame and AD — gather like the old freedom fighters and come up with intellectual and influential ways to disrupt the oppressive power system and return some of that power to the people that actually push the machine.
The business savvy, social awareness, confidence, persistence and changing philosophy of players can be directly attributed to Roberts’ rise as NBPA executive director.
Reports of NBA owners calling Gayle Benson on the phone and telling her not to accept the Lakers attractive package for Davis, tells us all we need to know about the power shift in the NBA and how Black agent/entrepreneurs like Rich Paul and Black players with increasing power over the dominant structure like LeBron James, are making the NBA owners squirmish.
They can try to slow down this inevitable change in culture, but as long as Roberts is putting a battery of freedom in these players’ backs, the new age NBA star will continue to wreak havoc, wise up and throw a kink in the old system.