NBPA Rumors

Michele Roberts: Can't rule out NBA bubble in 2021

No fans, no home-court advantage, but safety was the main priority when deciding to resume the 2019-20 season that had been on hold since March 11. The NBA has achieved that so far, but would the league be willing to start next season in a bubble environment? “I don’t think you can discount nor will I say we have discounted the possibility of continuing this protocol for the next season,” National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts in an Friday interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio.
“Now no one wants to be in the bubble for six straight months, that’s insane. So it may be multiple bubbles, it may be multiple bubbles with a period of time away from the bubble and maybe we won’t have a bubble at all, but for sure, that is the scenario or those are scenarios that are being considered because, again, the virus does dictate what our restrictions will and will not be.”
That’s part of Cash’s charge in New Orleans. She doesn’t want to be the only Black woman in her position in the league for long. Growing up in McKeesport, Pa., her mother and grandmother told her she’d have it twice as hard — and to suck it up and get to work. “You can’t be afraid to put women in leadership positions, just because it’s maybe not the popular thing to do, or you’re worried about women leading men,” Cash said, citing her early support of Michele Roberts to take over as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association while she was working with the WNBPA, in concert with the NBPA, as each union was trying to overhaul its existing leadership.
The frustration from most of these teams is that the ones not in Orlando now face a competitive disadvantage going forward when it comes to player and culture development, sources have said. Those teams, it’s clear, will continue pushing for ways to re-engage their coaches and players to ensure they are not taking steps backward ahead of the 2020-21 season. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts shared her view of the matter during a conference call with reporters in late June, making it clear that she would expect the same level of safety for players in a second bubble as exists in Orlando.
The protest wasn’t unexpected: Players had been talking about using games to amplify their social justice message for months. Still, the symbolism was powerful. Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, wiped away tears. Several NBA personnel members clapped for the players after the anthem ended. And following the game, players made it clear that they plan to continue kneeling. “The ‘stick to sports’ crowd, ‘keep politics out of sports’ — all those things, they’re meaningless now,” Pelicans guard JJ Redick said. “You can’t. Politics and sports coexist now. And the league has recognized that.”
Storyline: Social Justice Messages
When Chris Paul first walked through the doors of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in early July, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard paused to reflect on the resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season: the planning, the health concerns, the social justice issues. As the moment sunk in, Paul, who played a significant role in the restart as president of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), got teary-eyed. “Just think about it. A lot of things we were seeing at one point were renderings, and just conversations,” Paul told The Undefeated. “What will they need as far as a weight room? What will I need here? What will they need there? So, to walk in and to see it all in person is humbling. This is just crazy.
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid are among at least 15 NBA players who have decided not to put a social justice message on their jersey. Paul, who is close friends with James, is supportive of those players’ decisions. “That’s exactly why we have a league where you get a chance to make a choice,” Paul said. “And I respect any of those guys’ decisions. They may have their reasons why or not. For me … I was excited about the opportunity to speak on ‘Equality’ because I was asked about it. And also, for me, I envisioned my kids watching the game, my homies back home who go to the barbershops and talk about us and whatnot.”
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for us being here,” said New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick, who was Paul’s teammate on the LA Clippers. “His leadership has been amazing. I talked to him a couple weeks ago before we came here. … The thing that really stuck with me was how many hours per day for literally months he was on the phone, on Zoom, talking to people representing himself for the players. He absolutely worked his butt off to make this thing happen. Incredible leadership.”
After a new agreement between the National Basketball Players Association and NBA, players will receive a $2.5 million insurance benefit in the event of suffering a career-ending injury, sources told ESPN. The NBPA had been pushing for a raise in the permanent disability policy that previously paid out approximately $312,000 in these cases. The insurance covers career-ending injuries sustained on and off the court, including complications rising out of Covid-19, sources said. The payment would be in addition to money owed on contracts and include all active players up to 35 years old, sources said.
Storyline: Coronavirus
On the line were politician and activist Stacey Abrams and Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, who was shot by Louisville police officers in May after they served a no-knock warrant. Abrams moderated the discussion between the players and Taylor, who was invited to the call by Oklahoma City Thunder guard and NBPA president Chris Paul. “We just want to be soldiers for her and her family and just continue to keep [Taylor’s] name out there,” Paul said. Roberts said that initially, some players didn’t know that Palmer was on the call. “[The emotion] was palpable,” Roberts said. “She didn’t give a speech. She sort of acknowledged she was there and was really pretty quiet and said she obviously loved her daughter and just wanted to make sure everyone understood what happened.

Next season to be played in a bubble environment?

As the NBA prepares to officially restart its season in its bubble inside Walt Disney World Resort on Thursday — and other sports, most notably Major League Baseball, struggle to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts said returning to a bubble might be the only feasible way for the NBA to complete next season, as well.
This rumor is part of a storyline: 25 more rumors
“If tomorrow looks like today, I don’t know how we say we can do it differently,” Roberts told ESPN in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “If tomorrow looks like today, and today we all acknowledge — and this is not Michele talking, this is the league, together with the PA and our respective experts saying, ‘This is the way to do it’ — then that’s going to have to be the way to do it.”
In a call with the players back in May, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said money generated from live game attendance could account for up to 40 percent of the league’s annual revenue. Roberts said the two sides are “beginning some very high-level discussions with respect to what the potential issues are,” and said the laborious process that was necessary for the NBA and the union to hash out how to put the bubble together, and then actually go through the process of doing so, “took just about all of the oxygen out of the room.”
But police reform, and the continuing lack of resolution with Taylor’s death, are front of mind to most. Especially poignant was a players-only call last week with Tamika Palmer, Taylor’s mother. “That was one of the most extraordinary experiences,” said Michele Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, who was on the call. “…We were surprised; nobody knew her mom was going to end up on the call,” she continued. “It was powerful. And that’s one of the ways that we want to, not so much encourage the players, but satisfy what they want to be about. It’s easy, especially if you’re black, to be emotionally connected and wounded by all this. Then you’ve got all this energy and you want to know what to do with it. What we’re hoping to do is bring together people that can help them decide what to do with that energy.”
The scale of the Orlando endeavor got us wondering how the NBA aligned all the relevant interests in short order. It speaks volumes to the unique relationship of the NBA players’ union and the owners, particularly when juxtaposed against the messiness of the early MLB talks. The NBA’s current labor moment fascinates for many reasons, but none more so than the perception that we’re currently living through the “Player Empowerment Era.” We caught up with someone uniquely suited to provide perspective on the matter. Dominique Foxworth, a current ESPN analyst who played six seasons at cornerback in the NFL, after which he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. Most importantly — for this conversation — Foxworth served in leadership positions for both the NFLPA (President) and NBPA (Chief Operating Officer) during CBA negotiations. His experience of being in the room during negotiations on behalf of two unions with completely opposite reputations affords him a singular point of view as it pertains to labor dynamics in professional sports.
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
I would love to know how you feel about the terms of the partnership between players and leagues. What do you think it should be, idealistically? And right now, let’s face it. It’s 50-50. Dominique Foxworth: I think the players deserve a bigger share than they get, but I also do think that … I think about Jerry Jones, for instance, in football. You can go through his history of fighting the league on a number of different cases, from the Pepsi deal to … but he backs the league in a number of different ways financially, so him being willing to push and innovate has provided billions of dollars of more money for the league than they would’ve gotten otherwise. Those innovations have value and those are risks that some owners would say that they’re taking with some investments.
Dominique Foxworth: That has value, but I don’t think it’s as valuable as what the players offer necessarily. I’d be hesitant to put an exact number on it, but I think particularly because they own the teams and they also get to benefit from the rising franchise growth value, that’s another benefit for them, particularly because of that. I would not give the ownership class more than the players necessarily. I don’t know what the exact right number is. I would require some more analysis.
In the days since, lawyers from the player’s union and the NBA have reviewed the situation and there is dispute over where Oladipo’s situation falls. The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said. The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said. The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.
Roberts said there also will be social justice messages on jerseys in languages other than English, including Slovenian, Italian, French Creole, Latvian, Maori, Hebrew, Bosnian and Portuguese. Oklahoma City Thunder guard and NBPA executive director Chris Paul plans to have “EQUALITY” on the back of his jersey. “I chose ‘EQUALITY’ because it reminds us that in order to have real impact and change, we need to make a conscious effort to level the playing field and create systems that are not bias based on race, education, economics or gender,” Paul told The Undefeated.
As he learned more about the NBA’s restart plan and safety protocols, McCollum said he began to feel better about playing, and his opinion started to shift. He asked his family if they wanted him to play. Had they said no, he wouldn’t have chosen to go. “From the standpoint of understanding what I can accomplish while playing in front of all those fans, especially to help the movement,” McCollum said. “I feel like it was in my better interest personally to play.”
She quickly became aware of Paul’s reputation as Paul became aware of hers. Despite living in Los Angeles, Paul knew other D.C. lawyers. “I couldn’t figure it out,” Roberts said. “How does this guy know people in my circle?” Roberts laughs about it now, realizing how extensive Paul’s list of contacts is. “In the last few months we’ve gotten closer,” Roberts said. “I count him as one of my favorite people on the planet. And not because he’s making my life easier, though God knows he is, but because his concern and commitment to this game, to his brothers, is extraordinary.”
Some might question if a future hall of famer is working in the best interests of players buried on the end of the bench, but Iguodala said Paul always falls back on the same mantra: “How can we amplify every player’s voice?” “He’s the definition of a leader, man,” said Grizzlies forward and NBPA secretary-treasurer Anthony Tolliver. “I don’t think there could be a better combination of leadership and superstardom and work ethic when it comes to leading this union. “Whoever comes next is definitely going to have pretty big shoes to fill.”
ESPN reported that the NBA is “closing in” on this second bubble, which NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said last week would have to meet the same safety protocols as the one created in Orlando for the 22-team restart. The most recent conversations have centered on a mini-training camp and subsequent games, which would be similar to summer league. According to sources, numerous details are still being determined, significant hurdles remain, an official decision hasn’t been made and the second bubble needs approval from the Players Association, which isn’t guaranteed.
Storyline: Chicago Bubble
With the desire still strong among the eight teams not invited to the NBA’s restart to avoid an eight-month layoff between formal group activities, Chicago has emerged as a potential landing spot for a second “bubble” environment, sources confirmed. Significant hurdles remain for the eight teams to gather in one city, but sources told NBC Sports Chicago that Wintrust Arena has emerged as a potential host for the group activities if those hurdles are cleared. The arena is connected to a hotel, which would make meeting the strict safety protocols that the league and players association desire more feasible.
Storyline: Chicago Bubble
“We’ve been working with (NBPA Executive Director) Michele [Roberts], Chris [Paul] and Andre [Iguodala] and several other players on a shared goal that the season restart leads to collective action towards combating systematic racism and promoting social justice,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last Friday in a conference call with reporters. “This includes strategies to increase Black representation in all positions across the NBA and its teams, ensure greater inclusion of Black-operated businesses across NBA business activities, and the formation of an NBA foundation to expand educational and economic development opportunities across the Black community.”
How will you handle privacy concerns? Harpreet Singh Rai: “We’re working with the NBA, NBPA, Excel Sports and CAA to make sure everyone feels comfortable. Think about it — we’re tracking sleep, so a coach could ostensibly see that a player only got two hours of sleep the night before a game and decide not to start him. To ensure that doesn’t happen, most of the data isn’t being shared. The league and union only see something called a Risk Score, which combines heart rate, heart rate variability, temperature and respiratory rate. If the Risk Score is high enough, a team doctor is alerted and can test the player.”
NBPA director Michele Roberts hinted at concerns over OTAs for the “Delete 8’’ during Friday’s conference call, but didn’t rule it out. “Candidly, while I appreciate that there will be a bit of a layoff, I think there are some things these teams can do to get the guys that are not playing some [benefit] by their not being involved in Orlando,’’ Roberts said. “But unless we could replicate in every way the protocol that’s been established for Orlando, I’d be — I’m being tame now — suspicious.”
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
As such, it’s incredibly fair to wonder if the NBA’s plan might be halted even before the league arrives there (starting on July 9). While that looks very unlikely, Silver said the option has not been taken off the table entirely. “We’re closely monitoring the cases, and working with the department of health in Florida in terms of Orange County, where Orlando is located, and the entire state,” he said. “And then, we’re never going to say there’s nothing that would cause us to change our plans. I’m sure Michele and Chris and Andre would say the same thing. One thing we’re learning with this virus is (that) so much is unpredictable, so we’re not saying, ‘Full steam ahead no matter what happens.’ We all talk daily, and we’re going to see how this continues to play out. But we feel very comfortable right now with where we are.”
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
The frustration from most of these teams, sources say, is that the ones not in Orlando now face a competitive disadvantage going forward when it comes to player and culture development. But while many team officials are holding out hope that this might happen, and were even encouraged by the Thursday call, sources have also said all along that the NBPA might not agree to any such proposal. Roberts, when asked, expressed significant concern over the idea.
Storyline: Orlando Bubble
The personalized statements on jerseys are part of a long list of social justice messages the players plan to make through the remainder of the season, which restarts July 30 in Orlando, Florida. The NBA and the NBPA announced an agreement on Wednesday to continue to discuss fighting systemic racism and to make it one of the main focuses of the restart. Personalized jerseys could say such things as “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe,” bring light to a social or charitable cause or even display the names of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police in recent months. “We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out,” Paul told The Undefeated. “People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
Paul said he has talked to numerous players, including some who are not Black, who support the jersey idea. He said players will not be forced and pressured to wear jerseys with social justice messages. There will also be suggestions offered to players looking for a cause to support. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday in a media conference call that the league “has work to do” to make progress in hiring African Americans in notable roles, and the need for diversity was discussed at a recent board of governors meeting. The NBA was made up of 74.9% Black players during the 2018-19 season, according to the 2019 NBA Complete Racial and Gender Report Card released last week by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.
He’s an NBPA vice president, but he’s also one of the players who has to figure out personal logistics of getting ready to play and stay in Orlando, for what the Blazers hope will be a long time. “You’re trying to get your life in order while still working out, while still training, and figuring out like what do I pack? Despite all the logistics, McCollum feels confident the NBA is trying to do everything they can to protect players as they return to play. “I think the NBA is trying to make it as safe as possible, trying to cross their t’s and dot their i’s and this is as smooth as it can be.”
McCollum believes the impact the NBA and it’s players, about 70% of whom are black or people of color, can return to play and create the change they want to see in the world. “I think there’s a way in which we go about it that we can impact society, more specifically black people and people of color in a positive light,” McCollum said. “Being able to use our platform, understanding there’s going to be millions and millions of people watching and that’s going to give us a great opportunity to put light on things, like voter suppression, like the inequality a lot of blacks are facing right now.”
Storyline: Orlando Bubble