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Volume 23 No. 24
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Roberts expects CBA opt-out, preps for talks

National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts said she is preparing for negotiations should players or owners opt out of the current collective-bargaining agreement.

At the same time, Roberts said she believes that the league and the players union should wait for the resolution of litigation against the NCAA, as well as the fight to unionize college athletes, before engaging in talks about adopting a different age limit to enter the league.

“I will tell you I assume there will be an opt out,” Roberts said. “It would be foolish to not assume there will be an opt out.”

Roberts was elected as the first woman executive director of a major sports union in August and took over on Sept. 22.

The NBA’s labor agreement runs from December 2011 until 2021, but either the owners or the players may opt out of the agreement by notifying the other of their intentions on or before Dec. 15, 2015.

Roberts said she is meeting with the players and getting their consensus opinion on opting out. But she said, “I do know this: The union came out with a shorter stick than we had going in. So, to the extent there was a winner or a loser in connection with the last CBA, I think it is fair to say the owners came out on top. And that would suggest that there might be some interest in it if we can improve the deal.”

In any case, Roberts said she is preparing for negotiations in 2016. “Not only because I think it’s just wise, but there is no reason not to begin to prepare for negotiations,” she said, adding, “especially because it is not just the players’ call. Maybe the owners think they can get a better deal.”

One major issue facing the NBPA is the owners’ desire to raise the age limit for players entering the league from 19 or one year past high school to 20 or two years past high school.

Michele Roberts joined the NBA Cares Day of Service last month in Staten Island, N.Y., where a court and playground were dedicated.
Photo by: NBAE / Getty Images
But Roberts noted that current challenges to the college system, both in the form of lawsuits challenging NCAA rules, as well as a petition by college football players to unionize, must be taken into consideration.

“To do something in a vacuum or with all this uncertainty is, frankly, kind of foolish,” Roberts said.

Roberts said she is aware that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has expressed a need for urgency for changes in the age limit. However, she said, “all may become mooted, depending on how the legislation transpires.”

Roberts noted that the legal challenges in college sports create an environment where anything could happen.

“Let’s say, for example, there is a decision to unionize and these guys become employees and they begin to make some real money,” she said.

“No one can tell me what the inevitable outcome might be,” she said. “I don’t know that it makes sense to raise the age limit by one year if it is not going to make much of a difference depending on what may or may not happen at the NCAA level.”

Another issue Roberts is looking at is domestic violence. At Skadden Arps, Roberts did some pro bono work for victims of domestic violence, so she is familiar with the problem and the complexities of dealing with it.

Domestic violence allegations involving NFL players have been the subject of scandals and negative publicity for the NFL. The NBA and its players have not had the same level of negative publicity, but Roberts wants to get ahead of any potential future problems.

Currently, the NBA has a program for players to self-report if they have a problem with alcohol or substance abuse, but no such program exists for players who have a problem with domestic abuse.

“A player has a problem with substance abuse — I don’t know about it, the league doesn’t know about it — the league has something to make that connection and they will receive assistance,” Roberts said. “There is nothing like that in place in the domestic violence space, but that is something that the union internally here is talking about. I have had some limited conversations with the league about it.”

Roberts said she has had contact with women’s groups and plans to meet with other experts in domestic violence. She said she does not want to spend six months studying the issue or to put something in place if there’s little chance it will be useful.

“If someone wants help, but they feel to disclose it would jeopardize their livelihood — and the same thing [is true] with victims of domestic violence, they want to stop being beaten, but they don’t want their husband to lose the job, so they will be quiet,” she said. “Having something that allows people to get the help that they need without consequence is absolutely what the doctor ordered and it is something we need to get in place sooner than later.”