History was made Tuesday when Michele Roberts became the first woman to lead a North American men’s pro sports union.
In a vote of 32-4 by team player representatives and NBPA executive committee members, Roberts was named the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.
Roberts beat Dallas Mavericks president Terdema Ussery and tech industry CEO Dean Garfield. The job became available when the union ousted Billy Hunter in February 2013.
Roberts told reporters in Las Vegas — where the voting was held — of the union: “They’ve got their union back and I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go. I am a bad woman, but I’m not that bad.
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“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.”
A statement from the NBPA expressed its gratitude for Roberts, saying: “Throughout an extensive search, there were many terrific candidates, but Ms. Roberts’ resolve, enthusiasm and vision for the future of the NBPA made her the perfect fit. The organization is proud of the work done to ensure that players were involved and invested in a process to narrow more than 300 candidates down to the final choice.”
A trial lawyer from Washington, D.C., Roberts has no ties with the NBA. Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce was reportedly one of the players who left the meeting early, disgusted in what he considered to be a rushed voting process.
Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver applauded the appointment of Roberts.
“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,” Silver said in a statement. “The partnership between our players and teams is the backbone of the league, and we are eager to continue working with the Players Association to build this relationship.
“I also want to thank Ron Klempner for his service as interim executive director over the past 18 months.”
Roberts’ first major task could come in two years when both the players and the owners can opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement following the 2016-17 season.