NBPA Elects Liberal Trial Lawyer as First Woman to Run Major Sports Union

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) elected attorney Michele A. Roberts as its executive director, making her the first woman to run a players' association in a major U.S. sport.

Roberts responded after winning the job, "I am a bad woman, but I'm not that bad." Roberts, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom, said, "We are going to have a team, a very strong team, what I call a team of gladiators, that's going to help these men and women, again, go in the direction they choose to go. It's a new day. It's not a one-person, Superman, 'I've got this.' It's going to be a team."

In an interview with Chambers Associate, Roberts called Thurgood Marshall and Charles Ogletree her legal heroes and offered abolishing the death penalty as what she would most like to change in the law. The trial lawyer donated $17,900 to the Obama Victory Fund during the last presidential election cycle. She worked in the Washington, DC public defender's office after graduating from Boalt Hall.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responded to her selection in a statement that said, “On behalf of the NBA, I would like to congratulate Michele Roberts on her appointment as the NBPA’s new Executive Director and look forward to working with her and the NBPA Executive Committee to ensure the continued health and growth of our game.”

According to Forbes, there has been controversy surrounding the election of a new executive director. Notably, former interim Executive Director Ron Klempner, who replaced Billy Hunter, was acting as though he was the new permanent boss, which irked Chris Paul the Los Angeles Clippers, who serves as president of the NBPA. Moreover, Sports Illustrated reported that Hunter had been relieved of his duty because of alleged contract improprieties and charges of nepotism.

Paul’s lawyer and agent Jeff Schwartz commented, ”The next executive director should not be selected by a small group operating in a cone of silence. Players and agents alike should be involved in the process.” 

Despite former NBA player Jerry Stackhouse calling the entire election process a “joke,” the players cast their votes and demonstrated near unanimity for Roberts in casting 32 votes for, two against, and two abstentions. “Anytime you get 90 percent of the vote or more and full participation from the entire body," NBPA treasurer James Jones said, "it signals that guys understand that this is a very big deal."


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