New NBA players’ union executive director Michele Roberts is proving to be a game-changer in far more than just the obvious ways.
The first female chief of a major North American sports league union, the otherwise petite Roberts is proving to be willing to do all the heavy-lifting in ridding the NBA of what she sees as its long-held monopolizing practices.
Roberts tells ESPN she will undoubtedly push for a better than 50-50 split in favor of the players on all basketball-related income in their much anticipated upcoming negotiating sessions with league owners aimed at securing a new collective bargaining agreement. That owners recently netted a new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal set to kick in by 2016, lets you know just how much is in play here. And the longtime lawyer, never-before-hoops-associated Roberts shows no signs of being willing to come up on the short end of it all.
“Why don’t we have the owners play half the games?” she told ESPN in justifying her stance. “There would be no money if not for the players. Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money. Thirty more owners can come in, and nothing will change. These guys [the players] go? The game will change. So let’s stop pretending.”
In all the time it takes Kobe Bryant to get up a shot these days, league officials led by commissioner Adam Silver quickly came out in stark opposition to her position.
“We couldn’t disagree more with these statements,” he said. “The NBA’s success is based on the collective efforts and investments of all of the team owners, the thousands of employees at our teams and arenas, and our extraordinarily talented players. No single group could accomplish this on its own. The salary cap system, which splits revenues between team owners and players and has been agreed upon by the NBA and the players association…served as a foundation for the growth of the league and has enabled NBA players to become the highest paid professional athletes in the world. We will address all of these topics and others with the players association at the appropriate time.”
Whenever that time comes, if Silver or any one of the 30 owners he largely serves as a mouthpiece for thinks they’re going to simply muscle Michele Roberts off her position, well, they’ll more than likely find themselves shooting at air.
“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, referring to the league’s salary cap structure that has now been in place for the last 30 years. “It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”
That’s not all about the way the league does business that rubs Roberts the wrong way.
“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 of Silver’s stated plan to raise the league’s age-eligibility requirement. “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.”
With such star players as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki having recently voiced their preference for shortening the current 82-game regular season, Roberts is also looking to confer with league officials on that issue.
“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.”
It all now has some wondering what will come of the NBA between now and 2016 when negotiations absolutely have to commence in earnest.
“I’ll give them credit, they’ve done a great job of controlling the narrative,” Roberts said of past dealings between players and owners. “No one wants to say it out loud, but it’s a monopoly. And were there alternatives, they wouldn’t get away with it.”
NBA players now appear to have that alternative— or, at the very least, more of a voice. And her name is Michele Roberts.