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Volume 21 No. 2
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Roberts eager to settle into role as NBPA executive director

Michele Roberts was elected executive director of the National Basketball Players Association last week to lead a union that took 18 months to replace Billy Hunter, who was fired in February 2013.

Roberts faces a number of issues and decisions as she begins her new job, including whether players will opt out of the current collective-bargaining agreement after the 2016-17 season. Other issues include revisiting a potential change to the league’s player age eligibility rule, which was tabled during the last CBA deal, as well as addressing player drug testing policies. Last week, a day after she was elected to the position, Roberts said she could not make any statements on the substantive issues facing the union, but talked about her immediate plans and thoughts on leading a sports union with all male members. The following are excerpts from her interview with staff writer Liz Mullen.

n On possibly opting out of the CBA and possible changes to the age limit: The reason I can’t talk about these issues is I don’t know what clients’ positions are with respect to these issues. They have not, and I would not have expected them, to share with me what their thinking is on these issues before I became their executive director. So I don’t know. I have certainly been very interested in understanding what the issues are and I have spent a lot of time reading about it, listening to it and thinking about it. And I certainly have my own opinion about some of the consequences of the decisions that might be made. But my opinions are completely irrelevant, and they are not even fully informed. … At the end of the day, they may be ridiculously naïve opinions, given what the concerns are that my clients have. So I look forward to having discussions [with the players].

On her immediate plans: I do intend to eyeball every single one of the men and women who pay my salary. I see a great deal of travel in my immediate future. I want to meet them; I want them to meet me. … I am going to let them know they have absolute carte blanche to contact me. I plan to do a lot of handshaking and talking and learning.

On understanding the issues the union is facing: I can tell you that I am as familiar as one can be from the outside without being engaged in discussions with the players on their views on these issues — I shouldn’t have been, unless I was hired by them. It makes sense that I wouldn’t know what the players’ thinking is, in relation to these issues. I am familiar with what the issues are. … I have seen what Mr. [Adam] Silver has had to say about the direction he wants to take the league and the issues he wants to engage in discussions with the players. I tried to get ahead of those issues, so I would know what they were, if I got the offer.

On working with the players: Sit down and help them formulate [a plan] and give them some idea of what the alternatives are to approaching these issues and the consequences of whatever positions they decide to take. So those are discussions I know we are going to have very soon and I look forward to that.

On being a woman seeking this position: I stopped a long time ago allowing myself to be paralyzed in my decisions about how I was going to proceed in my life, worried about how people might view me because of the fact I am a woman. I have never thought about not representing a client or not asking a question of a witness or any number of things. I stopped worrying about ‘Can I do that? I’m a girl.’ I do what I can to represent the people who pay me a lot of money — frankly — to solve their problems. And I do that by being the best lawyer I can be, and I don’t spend one second worrying about how some idiot might think I might not be competent because I’m a woman. … When I looked at this position and I found myself interested and attracted to it, I said, ‘This is what I want to do. I think I can do this. In fact, I know I can do this.’