Michele Roberts: NBA players union head shatters high glass ceiling


The courts are where Michele Roberts excels.

Both of them.

For more than three decades, Roberts, 61, was a star member of the bar: Adjunct professor at Harvard Law School, member of Anita Hill’s legal team during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings — those are just two entries on the resume of the litigator whom Washingtonian magazine once dubbed the “finest pure trial lawyer in Washington, D.C.”

And then the NBA came calling.

In July 2014, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) overwhelmingly elected Roberts as its new executive director. The announcement by NBPA President and then-Los Angeles Clippers star guard Chris Paul was the equivalent of a backboard-shattering slam dunk: Roberts became the first and only woman to head a players union in one of the four major U.S. pro sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey).

One of five children raised by a single mother in a housing project in the Bronx, Roberts volunteered to defend death row prisoners in disciplinary hearings at San Quentin State Prison while still a student at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Working for the D.C. public defender’s office and then several of the city’s most prestigious law firms, she was known for being fiercely loyal to clients and forging strong connections with juries.

Those skills would come in handy at the NBPA, where the previous director had been ousted for mismanagement and a labor disagreement had shut down play for several months in 2011. A new agreement reached late in 2016 between the union and the NBA increased the income pool for players and created a less physically grueling game schedule while also assuring labor peace for seven years.

   MORE: National Women's History Month: What is it, when did it begin, who is being honored this year?

Roberts won high marks for her role in those negotiations, effectively underscoring what she’d said when she got the NBPA job.

“I don’t live my life saying, ‘What ceiling am I going to crack tomorrow?’ ” Roberts said in The New York Times. “What I have done, and what I tell my nieces to do, is not to worry about whether you’re the only one, but worry about whether you’re the best one.”

Go to myajc.com/womens-history for the whole Women’s History Month series and for more subscriber exclusives and videos.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

USGA makes it right for U.S. Open final round
USGA makes it right for U.S. Open final round

If the United States Golf Association ran football, there would be days the goalposts would be moved up into the corner endzone seats. And pitched at the jaunty angle of a cool kid’s cap. If the USGA took over baseball, outfield fences would be built like bellows and move in and out according to that day’s starting pitchers.  ...
LOOK: Mexico wants Bama after Germany upset at 2018 World Cup
LOOK: Mexico wants Bama after Germany upset at 2018 World Cup

Teheran pitches six no-hit innings, Braves beat Padres again
Teheran pitches six no-hit innings, Braves beat Padres again

It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. That’s all the Braves could’ve asked for Julio Teheran’s return to the mound. Teheran pitched six no-hit innings in the Braves’ 4-1 win over the Padres on Sunday. He was relieved by Shane Carle after throwing 95 pitches. The right-hander was placed on the disabled list June 5 with...
Washington State’s Jahad Woods highlighted as one of Pac-12’s best run-stoppers
Washington State’s Jahad Woods highlighted as one of Pac-12’s best run-stoppers

Washington State linebacker Jahad Woods is one of the Pac-12’s most feared defenders returning to the gridiron this fall. Pro Football Focus highlighted Woods’ ability to stop the run. Among Pac-12 linebackers, Woods stopped the run 13.2 percent of the time, the most in the conference. Last year as a freshman, Woods 65 tackles including...
DT Denver Warren puts Michigan at No. 1, likely to commit soon
DT Denver Warren puts Michigan at No. 1, likely to commit soon

Denver Warren and his mother, Elsie Jimerson, stepped foot on the University of Michigan campus on June 15, looked at each other and knew it was something special. “Michigan is somewhere I can be and see myself being at,” said Warren, a 2020 3-star defensive tackle from Aurora (Ill.) West Aurora. “I got the...
More Stories