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Michele Roberts Makes It Clear To The NBA: She Wants Change

Photo by Washington Post/Getty Images.
Photo by Washington Post/Getty Images.

Michele Roberts made history as the first women leader of a professional sports union when she was tabbed to take over the beleaguered NBA Players Association this summer. That done, in a few months she’s shown more vision and nerve than any of her predecessors.

Refreshingly, her office is in Harlem, a departure from the Midtown Manhattan location of the past and an indication that she is rooted in her culture. Roberts has strong ideas about the league, the owners, the season. . . you name it. To ESPN The Magazine, the woman considered one of the best trial lawyers in the country said:

*On the NBA rookie wage scale: “I can’t understand why the [players’ association] would be interested in suppressing salaries at the top if we know that as salaries at the top have grown, so have salaries at the bottom. If that’s the case, I contend that there is no reason in the world why the union should embrace salary caps or any effort to place a barrier on the amount of money that marquee players can make.”

* On players splitting revenue with the owners, which has been in place since 1982: “Why don’t we have the owners play half the games? There would be no money if not for the players. Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money,” she added, pausing for emphasis. “Thirty more owners can come in, and nothing will change. These guys [the players] go? The game will change. So let’s stop pretending.”

* On the length of the season: “Every time a player gets hurt, I think, my God, they really are pushing their bodies. And back-to-backs, those are the ones I really find disturbing. . . So the answer, of course, is that everybody wants a shorter season. The tension is, Will that mean less money? And that’s something we need to talk about and think about. . . I don’t think it would hurt the game to shorten the season.”

* On an age minimum to play in the NBA: “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. 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.”

If nothing else, Roberts is bold and smart—and willing to take on the establishment. Gotta love her.

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