NBA Players Make History, A Woman Will Lead Their Union

On the strong recommendation of Chris Paul, president of the players union, and with the backing of the nine member executive committee, Washington D.C. trial lawyer, Michele Roberts was elected as the Executive Director of the NBA Players Association. She received 32 out of the 34 votes of the committee and team representatives. Michele Roberts is the first woman to lead a major North American sports league union.

Apr 29, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) signals a play during the 2nd half against Golden State Warriors in game five of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Her “grace under fire” was admired by Chris Paul who was impressed with her ideas during the interview process.

Roberts, a graduate of Wesleyan and U.C. Berkeley Law School, replaces Billy Hunter who left his position in a scandalized fury of which he is still litigating. Disgraced, Hunter was accused of corruption, lapses of ethics, nepotism and cronyism. Under his leadership, the NBA Players Association was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan for illegal business practices.

Michele Roberts ethical history as well as her labor experience won over many of the voting members.  As a partner in the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom she has won over 100 cases as a civil litigator specializing in civil and white collar criminal litigation. Washingtonian Magazine called her the the finest pure trial lawyer in Washington D.C.

She began her legal career as a public defender and was Chief of the Trial Division. She acted as the legal counsel for more than 40 jury trials. Famed Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree Jr., once remarked that Michele Roberts, “is able to revise strategy as necessary mid trial to address the jury’s concerns.”

In 2011 she was the Business Trial Lawyer of the Year. She was a Litigator of the Year finalist. She was also included as one of the Top 250 Women in Litigation in 2013. She was selected for inclusion in Best Lawyers in America 2013-14. In 2009, Washingtonian Magazine included her on the list of Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women. She teaches a trial advocacy workshop at Harvard University.

“We’ve never had this amount of players here for a meeting”, Paul noted. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts now as a part of our team.”

Her gender was an asset in that the players found her to be someone they could relate to. Paul further noted a particular exchange in the interview process. Roberts was asked a question and her answer was so detailed, concise, articulate and powerful that Vice President Roger Mason Jr. almost fell out of his seat.

Her first order of business is to assemble a management team and then begin negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Players have an opt-out in 2017). “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 go in the direction they want to go”, Roberts said.

She then added, “It’s a new day.”