By Omar Tyree
During the month of July, the NBA Player’s Association elected Attorney Michele Roberts as their first African-American female executive director, putting her in place to help them negotiate business and other concerns with the league’s billionaire owners. As a well-respected trial lawyer in the Washington, D.C. area, Player’s Association President Chris Paul was insistent that Roberts’ strong credentials and experience in tough negotiations made her the best candidate for the job. In mid-November, Roberts made her first key points in an ESPN interview.
Among her key concerns to go to battle over with the owners in upcoming negotiations were; the idea of a player’s salary cap, maximum player contracts, rookie pay scales, a new 20-year-old age limit, the league’s increase in television revenue, the rumors team revenue losses from some of the owners, a 50-50 revenue split between players and owners, the public response to the perceived greed of athletes, and equality negotiating leverage.
By today’s interview standards of impatient, keep it short and sweet, social media blogs, this was a very long and detailed Q&A, where Roberts answered nearly 30 questions about everything from the ownership “monopoly” to the current NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
And boy did she speak strongly, calling the player’s salary cap and maximum contracts “incredibly un-American,” rookie pay scales not being “paid what you’re otherwise worth,” an age restriction offensive to someone’s “ability to make a living,” while calling the owners group a “monopoly.” She also hinted at bringing in professional economists to figure out what the long-term CBA numbers really mean to the players, while suggesting that maybe the owners should play half of the games if they expect to earn half of the revenue.
I read the interview headlined, “The Woman Who Will Change Sports” and said, “Wow! This is heavy!” But I’m definitely old enough to have heard this tough talk from new representatives before. It happens all of the time in many industries, until these individuals walk into the lion’s den and find out that the lions are much bigger, stronger, meaner and hungrier than they ever imagined, particularly once they know this new hunter is there to steal their food.
So by the time Roberts was asked how she felt the public will react to the player’s increasing concerns about money, instead of regurgitating what she had to say, as a fan of the NBA and professional sports in general, here are my reactions:
Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant and other superstars of that level deserve to be paid whatever they can demand. Why? Because these players are definitely worth the price of admission; they have all proven it. However, I do not agree with paying a one-year college rookie $15 million a season in the NBA until he has proven the same.
It took the National Football League took years to learn that lesson after paying rookies guaranteed contracts of $50 -, $60 and $60 million when some of these guys could barely make the starting line-up, let alone make a difference on the field.
When discussing the idea of maximum contracts for individual players and a salary cap for the amount of the team, these are legitimate concerns when you stop to think about the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls being able to pay their team and players much more than Milwaukee, Memphis and Minnesota. So owners had to agree to create ways to keep the money game equal among the 30 teams, while also being able to pay role players more than just peanuts in relation to the stars.
But Roberts’ gag of asking the owners to play half of the games to receive half of the revenue was mere silliness for effect. These billionaire owners may not play basketball, but they surely know how to run business franchises. And those who do not, obviously don’t make as much money. However, whenever you start talking loud and strong to billionaires about money, you can be certain that they’re listening. So the upcoming years of negotiations between the owners and the players with Attorney Michele Roberts now in a leadership position we surely be interesting. And I can’t wait to see what happens.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction and a professional journalist @ www.OmarTyree.com