Michele Roberts: NBA owners don’t matter, players do

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NBA players get half the league’s revenue, and owners get the other half.

That doesn’t sit well with National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts.

Roberts, via Pablo S. Torre of ESPN:

“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.”

Roberts is preparing for the impending 2017 work stoppage, dialing up the rhetoric. Adam Silver got a head start on behalf of the owners, but Roberts is going on the offensive to catch up.

The union head also spoke out against max contracts (a view she has expressed previously), a rookie scale and an age limit. Those issues are just symptoms of a great problem to her, though.

Really, Roberts wants to see the entire salary-cap system go.

Roberts, via Torre:

“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,” she said, talking about a salary cap — a collectively bargained policy that, in its current form, has constrained team spending in the NBA since 1984-85. “It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

The NBA has argued a salary cap does not violate U.S. law because – rather than teams competing with each other – the league is competing with other forms of entertainment. It’s not the Knicks vs. the Lakers. It’s the NBA vs. movies.

In that context, a system that promotes competitive balance has virtue in raising overall revenue. If teams aren’t competing with each other, they can’t be competitors colluding to reduce wages. They’re part of the same organization, the NBA, and there’s nothing wrong with different branches of the same company refusing to bid against each other for labor.

It’s an argument with some merit, but there’s a reason the NBA’s stance has become so widely accepted.

Roberts, via Torre:

“No one wants to say it out loud, but it’s a monopoly,” she said. “And were there alternatives, they wouldn’t get away with it.”

“I’ll give the league credit,” she added. “They have done a great job controlling the narrative.”

Roberts won’t change the players’ situation overnight, but she’s at least trying to change the narrative.