On Thursday NBA players’ union executive director Michele Roberts made waves with new criticism of the NBA’s salary cap despite a long-time agreement on the policy between players and owners. During her wide-ranging criticism of the league with ESPN, Roberts attacked many of the NBA’s salary policies and even said she feels that the age restriction should be ended so that players in their teens can join the league.
In defense of her constituents, the union chief adamantly insists that the players are the only reason there is an NBA in the first place.
“There would be no money if not for the players,” Roberts told ESPN this week.
“Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money,” she continued. “Thirty more owners can come in, and nothing will change. These guys [the players] go? The game will change. So let’s stop pretending.”
Roberts, a highly successful trial lawyer, called it absurd that the players should agree to limit their own salaries with caps and hinted that she thinks the practice should end.
“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 talking about a salary cap that has constrained team spending since 1984. “It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”
But the league criticized her extreme point of view. On Thursday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement of his own.
We couldn’t disagree more with these statements. 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. Nor is there anything unusual or “un-American” in a unionized industry to have a collective system for paying employees–in fact, that’s the norm.
The Salary Cap system, which splits revenues between team owners and players and has been agreed upon by the NBA and the Players Association since 1982, has 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.
Roberts also criticized the rookie wage scale, attacked max contracts, criticized many other pay scale policies, and even said that players under 20-years-of-age should again be able to play in the NBA as Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, and other teenagers had in the past.
“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. “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.”
One of the purposes for the age restriction is to encourage players who come from college ball to complete their schooling before making the attempt to jump into professional basketball.
The union chief didn’t announce any direct demands that the union intends to make, but her interview with ESPN seems to be a battle cry to future action. She also said that the owners have done a good job keeping the players under their thumb.
“I’ll give the league credit,” she said. “They have done a great job controlling the narrative.”
The players elected Roberts to head the union in July, making her the first female union executive director in the history of American professional sports.
As she accepted the role, Roberts said, “I am a bad woman, but I’m not that bad.” Roberts, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom, went on to say, “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.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org