Michele Roberts's pitch to NBA players was simple: "My past," she said during her interview, "is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on." If any NBA owners were still sleeping on the new head of the NBPA, they'd best stay woke from here on in. Because going by what Roberts said in an interview with ESPN The Magazine, NBA owners don't mean shit.
This is what you want from your union chief:
"Why don't we have the owners play half the games?" Roberts said, speaking in her Harlem office to ESPN The Magazine. "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 go? The game will change. So let's stop pretending."
If that's her message, Roberts is taking over at exactly the right time, as the NBA's spent the past five months making this very point. Commissioner Adam Silver shocked most observers by moving swiftly and decisively to ban Donald Sterling for life and help expedite the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer before the season after audio was released of Sterling laying his plantation business sense on the table. It likewise moved to shove Bruce Levenson out as Hawks owner when an investigation prompted the organization to disclose a shitty, structurally racist email arguing for racist whites to be a targeted demographic to whom the Hawks should pander.
The implicit message was something like, We'll find another billionaire if you fuck this up for us. And that's true, you can find another billionaire to pay an outrageous amount of money for an NBA franchise. You can't, however, find another LeBron James or Steph Curry, but under the current system, they're the ones treated as expendable.
Here's Roberts again:
"I don't know of any space other than the world of sports where there's this notion that we will artificially deflate what someone's able to make, just because. ... It's incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it."
Fuck yeah it's un-American. Roberts announced she'd be coming for the whole suite of bullshit NBA and professional sports status quo. The salary cap itself, the maximum salary, the rookie scale, the rookie age limit—all of it is under review. Even things that are seen as relative concessions by ownership, like the idea of "cap smoothing" to avoid a huge jump in the salary cap number leading up to the start of the league's new $24 billion TV deal in 2016, are being re-examined. That spike, Roberts says, is just "an accurate reflection of what the revenue is." (Unsaid is that to accept the smoothing as a mechanism to better allow teams to navigate the cap, you must accept the premise that navigating the salary cap is an important and unavoidable part of basketball business, and not simply a mutation of the market that should be done away with.)
Obviously, this is part of the run-up to the next NBA labor dispute, due in 2017, which will be a bloodbath. But for once, the players seem to have found themselves some able representation.