Social activism is becoming more popular among players and Roberts fully supports their efforts. Will this affect the relationship between owners — 29 of whom are not black — and the predominantly African-American players, especially when labor negotiations for a new contract are ongoing? “I can tell you this, I haven’t heard a single complaint from a player or heard a single owner say that any of the expressions we’ve seen the last few weeks was problematic,” Roberts told the Globe. “I’m not saying that that’s not the case, that there aren’t owners that may feel that way, but they haven’t expressed it to me or any of my players. I would like to believe that the owners, despite the fact that they are [mostly] white, that they’re all bright enough to appreciate and understand that what is happening in our community is a source of distress and not in any way suggest what the players did was inappropriate.
“When the men last year did the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ T-shirts for a brief period of time, it was not the case that they were playing the game in the shirts and while it was technically a violation of the uniform policy, I thought the league did exactly the right thing by not attempting to impose any sanctions. I was disturbed when there were sanctions imposed against the women because, in my view, it’s not too terribly different from what the men had done and in no way had disrupted the game and so I was distressed but pleased when the fines were rescinded.” Roberts said she feels a sense of pride in watching these players, some millennials, conjure memories of their predecessors with political and social activism.
Michele Roberts lauded NBPA members for voting for health care for retired players with three or more years of service time. That was a landmark decision that may be envied by player unions and retired players from other sports, especially football. “Again, this is another one of those myths that needs to go ahead and die — these men absolutely appreciate on whose shoulders they stand,” Roberts said. “Without any hesitation, they understand that but for the sacrifices that were made by their predecessors, they would not enjoy what they do [with such financial rewards]. So as far as we’re concerned, a no-brainer. They don’t want any former NBA player to not be able to get medical care. The concept was one they thought they needed to correct and I’m proud to say that they did.”
Q: Will you be back at the collective-bargaining table next year? Adam Silver: Well, we’re back at the table already. While we and the union have agreed that we’re not going to talk publicly about the substance of our discussions, neither side has made it a secret that we’re talking and that the goal is, of course, to avoid any type of work stoppage whatsoever. I feel fairly confident that, based on the tone of these discussions thus far, based on the sense of trust and the amount of respect among the parties, that we should be able to avoid any kind of public labor issue and that the things we need to get done will get done behind closed doors.
Q: The executive director of the players’ union, Michele Roberts, gave an interview where she called salary caps un-American. What is your relationship with her like? Adam Silver: The communication is very direct between Michele and me. As a still relatively new head of the union, I think she is establishing herself, and it’s not for me to say what she should be saying publicly or otherwise. What I care most about is what is said across the bargaining table. We have built a relationship. We’re in the process of growing that relationship. I have tremendous respect for her. She has never made any issues personal. And to the extent she’s said things publicly, I think she’s made a distinction between what may be a personal point of view and a position that the union is taking.
Q: Early on, you talked about one of your top priorities being moving the minimum age for players up from 19 to 20 years old. Is that still something you want? Adam Silver: It’s still something I care a lot about. I’m also a realist. Given that Michele has said her preference would be for an 18-year-old minimum age, my sense is that it’s not something that’s going to change in the short term. And by the way, I’ve always said I understand the other side of the issue, about a young man’s opportunity to make a living. But my view has always been that we’d be a better league if players came into the draft at 20 instead of 19.