Michele Roberts made headlines in July when she became the first female head of a professional league’s players’ union. She made headlines again in an ESPN interview where Roberts called out the league and its owners for being “un-American.”
Robert’s scathing remarks insinuated that the NBA’s success can be attributed solely to players, while “more owners can come in [and] nothing will change.” Despite her claim that the NBPA wants to avoid “the point where we have to have another lockout,” her words were not taken lightly by the league. Commissioner Adam Silver argued that “no single group could accomplish this on its own,” citing the “efforts and investments” of owners, employees and players.
Roberts, an experienced trial lawyer, isn’t just looking for headlines: She’s gearing up for another CBA negotiation. With the NBA’s new TV contracts and increasing team values, the NBPA will most likely opt out of the current CBA at the first opportunity after the 2016-2017 season. Considering Roberts’ aggression this far removed from the potential union opt-out, we may be looking at another lengthy lockout. The first order of business: renegotiating the revenue split – currently 50-50 – in favor of the players.
Roberts also balked at Commissioner Silver’s proposal to increase the NBA draft age limit, ostensibly to ensure that players are more mature when they enter the league and to avoid some of the financial issues that have plagued a number of young athletes. Roberts argued that “there is no other profession that says that you’re old enough to die but not old enough to work.” However, the NHL has a number of restrictions on the age of players in the minor leagues, especially CHL imports.
The NBPA is positioning its members as Davids fighting 30 Goliaths in order to win over the support of the public. While fans might not be inclined to sympathize with athletes who receive healthy salaries and endorsements, they’re even less likely to support the league’s billionaire owners.
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