Michele Roberts Appointed As The NBA’s New History-Making Union Leader

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It’s been a pretty awesome month for the National Basketball Association. First came the announcement of Becky Hammon being the first paid female coach during a regular season, and now the NBA’s Players Association have announced their new leader, lawyer Michele Roberts. She officially becomes the first female union representative for any North American sporting association, so there’s that ceiling broken!

She will take up her new position on September 15. In a profile piece in the New York Times, she proves once again that although this story has caused a lot of attention because of her gender, she got the job because she was the most qualified. She studied law at the University of California, Berkely, was a partner at a major law firm in Washington, and standing before over 100 male NBA players in a private meeting in Las Vegas in July she unashamedly told them why she should be voted in as their new rep.

“I bet you can tell I’m a woman,and I suspect the rest of the world can, too. My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.” Clearly, she was convincing enough and was voted in.

“She said she was all too aware that if she was selected, she would represent several hundred male athletes in the N.B.A.; she would deal with league officials and agents who were nearly all men; she would negotiate with team owners who were almost all men; and she would stand before reporters who were predominantly men,” writes Andrew Keh at the NY Times.

The NBA has had a pretty major year, what with the controversy surrounding the Donald Sterling saga, but this doesn’t faze Michele and she is ready to take on the job at hand, because she knows she is qualified.

“I don’t live my life saying, ‘What ceiling am I going to crack tomorrow?’ 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.”

Here’s some other cool facts about this history-making news, she was one of 300 candidates who threw their hat in the ring in 2013. She has no experience in the sports industry, nor does she have a background in labor relations. Yet the players saw her as the person they most wanted to represent them in the union leadership, a position which has been vacant since February 2013 when the previous leader Billy Hunter was fired in a storm of controversy.

Needless to say she is moving into a position and a sporting association that is probably desperate to shed it’s contentious image, and get back to making players, coaches and fans happy.

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Michele grew up in a poor area of the Bronx, NY as one of five children raised by a single mother. She received a scholarship in high school to attend a boarding school, and was only one of two African-Amerian girls. That’s when she started to realize she was different, but sees that as a turning point in her life where she learned a lot about her own identity, which she clearly carries on in her career today.

“Once I realized that being different does not mean being inferior — I scoff at that nonsense if I see it.” There’s some good advice for all of us in any aspect.

Early on in her college education she volunteered at the law offices in San Quentin Prison where she defended men on death row. Now that’s a badass fearless woman right there!

The Washington Post said the fact that a woman has been hired is a good sign that the NBA wants significant change. Often women are chosen in positions of leadership when there has been much contention and controversy, just look at the circumstances surrounding General Motors with their vehicle callbacks, after they hired Mary Barra as their new CEO in December 2013.

” One study found that when a group of people is divided, there’s a greater tendency to seek collaborative leaders — a profile stereotypically associated with women. Their success rate appears to be higher, as well. Among countries with high ethnic strife, for example, the researchers found a correlation between higher GDP growth and the election of female leaders,” writes Jena Mcgregor at the post.

They shared a quote from Columbia Katherine Philips who said: “When women are put into leadership positions it immediately sends the signal that there’s going to be change.”

The Washington Post also claims that women are disproportionately put into leadership roles that have a much higher risk of failure, which may be true according to studies, but it is also a great opportunity for women to show they are just as capable as men, and aren’t scared of taking on a big task.

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Michele says she wants to use her own experience of being an empowered female to the male NBA players.

“I’m going to make sure that they are empowered to take their union exactly where they want their union to go,” Roberts said to ESPN. “It’s going to be a team that’s going to empower them to be able to do their business as they decide.”

“I am a bad woman, but I’m not that bad. 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.”

Los Angeles Clippers player Chris Paul (pictured above) expressed his excitement for Michele as the players’ new union rep.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to have the wonderful Michele Roberts now as a part of our team. Even though she’s a female, she’s very relateable to a lot of our players. I think that’s what really hit home for not only myself but some of these other guys as well,” he said.

So this is not just a story about an African-American woman making history in a male-dominated arena, but it is a story of how a woman can bridge the gap and show men it is nothing to do with gender, and everything to with being capable and having opportunities to show that. Now that she and Becky Hammon have broken the dam, we might as well get used to seeing more females in the NBA and consider it a normal thing. Sounds like a slam dunk to us!

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