SBD/July 29, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBPA Makes History With Election Of Attorney Michele Roberts To Exec Dir Role

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The NBPA made history late last night when it elected Michele Roberts the first-ever female Exec Dir of a sports union in North America. Roberts, a partner in law firm Skadden Arps' DC office, was elected to the position during a meeting in Las Vegas attended by 117 NBA players. Roberts received 32 out of 36 votes cast. The other two candidates were Mavericks President & CEO Terdema Ussery and Information Technology Industry Council President & CEO Dean Garfield. All players were invited to meet with candidates and express their opinions to union leaders with a vote. Clippers G and NBPA President Chris Paul said, "This has definitely been a very rigorous and tough process. We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting to give the input and feedback. It’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts as part of our team.” Roberts replaces Billy Hunter, who was fired during NBA All-Star weekend in February '13. Roberts' legal work has focused on complex civil and white collar criminal litigation. Skadden Arps also is the longtime outside counsel to the NBA, but Paul said that Roberts made the Exec Committee comfortable about her ability to lead the union going forward despite her firm counting the NBA as a client. He directed a question about whether that was an issue to Roberts at a brief press conference held late last night. Roberts said, “Skadden has in excess of 1,600 lawyers and we probably have in excess of 5,000 clients. I don’t work for every client and I’ve never done any work for the league” (Liz Mullen, Staff Writer). 

GENDER NOT AN OBSTACLE: Paul said that the fact players elected Roberts shows the open-mindedness of the player leaders in the union. Paul: “With any of the candidates, it wasn’t about race, gender, anything. It was who was going to be the best person in that position." When asked if her being female was an obstacle she had to overcome, Roberts joked, “Let’s be clear, I’m sure there were people who noticed I was a girl. Having said that, I frankly wanted to address that question upfront whenever I spoke to any members of the union. My sense was the only thing that people cared about was my resolve” (Mullen). Roberts added, "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." Paul said, "Even though she's a female, she's very relatable to a lot of our players" (NBA.com, 7/29).

LET'S GET IT STARTED
: Roberts said that she would "assemble a management team to run the union, perhaps even changing the union bylaws, before diving into negotiations" on a new CBA, which players can opt out of following the '16-17 season. Roberts: "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. 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." She added that the union has "already begun talking" about whether to opt out of the CBA. Roberts: "We started yesterday preparing for CBA negotiations. It's 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." ESPN's Shelburne & Stein cite sources as saying that one of the concerns "voiced during the meeting ... was the fact that two of the three finalists (Roberts and Garfield) had no institutional knowledge of the NBA's inner workings and limited negotiating experience, while the third (Ussery) had a longstanding relationship with former NBA commissioner David Stern" (ESPN.com, 7/29). USA TODAY's Sam Amick reports many players hope the combination of Roberts' "intellect and her lack of a basketball background will spawn a welcome mix of humble effectiveness that makes for a more inclusive and impactful process." Thunder G Reggie Jackson: "I feel like we're putting a team together, like we have more of a voice. I'm hoping things go well from this point on. Michele, I liked her idea of team implementing, understanding that it's not one person." Free agent F Lou Amundson: "She wants to have that kind of environment, where everybody is putting in their two cents. 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" (USATODAY.com, 7/29).

NOT EVERYONE IS SATISFIED: YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski reports the election process was "littered with the NBPA's usual dysfunction, including a late bid by player agents to push back the vote and further study the finalists -- or possibly dump them all together" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/29). CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger notes there were "abstentions among the four votes that did not go in Roberts' favor, as player agents and retired players dissatisfied with the selection process tried to compel clients to abstain or postpone the vote." Leading the dissent was former NBPA First VP Jerry Stackhouse, who was "elected to the executive committee last year, subsequently stepped down, and called the executive director selection process 'a joke.'" Stackhouse: "I've been quiet through the whole thing, but when I see this right here, they knew who they wanted to come here. ... When you're telling everybody that Kevin Johnson is leading the process and then all of a sudden he drops out of the process in the final hour, it reeks." Stackhouse added that he was "asked to leave the room before the vote." Stackhouse: "It's an endless pit. It's fertile ground. They've got the right person in place, someone who has no institutional knowledge of the union and how it works. It's going to be a joke" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/29). However, NBA.com's John Schuhmann reports Stackhouse "admitted that he would have loved the job himself" and members of the Exec Committee "didn't seem concerned about his agenda" (NBA.com, 7/29).
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