The next executive director of the National Basketball Players Association may be a woman.
Michele Roberts, an attorney at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, was one of two candidates introduced yesterday to union executive committee members and player representatives at All-Star weekend in New Orleans, according to two people with direct knowledge of the meeting.
The people were granted anonymity because the process isn’t public. Roberts, if chosen, would become the first woman to lead the players union in any of the four major North American sports leagues.
Members of the union’s executive committee, including President Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers and First Vice President Roger Mason Jr., in a press conference after their meeting declined to name the candidates or how many there are.
“The NBPA will now implement a program that will allow players around the country to consider final candidates, discuss their merits internally, and convey their views to player representatives,” Paul said.
Roberts, whose practice focuses on complex civil and white collar criminal litigation before state and federal courts and in administrative proceedings, didn’t immediately return an e-mail and voice mail seeking comment on the NBPA job.
The other candidate to replace Billy Hunter is David White, the national executive director of the Screen Actors Guild. White confirmed his status as a candidate to Variety. His candidacy was previously reported by Yahoo.
Members of the executive committee declined to give a timetable to pick a replacement for Hunter, a former National Football League player and U.S. Attorney who was fired from his $3 million a year position in a unanimous vote of 24 of the 30 player representatives at last season’s All-Star break.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at his annual All-Star press conference said some league matters, including a renegotiation of a higher age limit, have been slowed by the absence of a boss at the union and that he’d “love to have a partner across the table from me that had the backing of the entire players association and with whom we could do business with.”
“There’s nothing burning and pressing that is impacting the quality of the competition or the league because they’re going through this transition right now at the union, but I would love for them to have an executive director in place,” he said.
Reilly Partners, a Chicago-based executive search firm, was hired by the association in September to help find Hunter’s replacement. The company, Mason said, identified hundreds of candidates, which the executive committee has whittled down to the two that met players today. Among the non-executive committee members who attended today’s meeting was All-Star Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks.
According to her law firm bio, Roberts has tried more than 100 cases to jury verdicts, representing clients in a wide variety of areas, including products liability, white collar, racketeering, securities regulation violations, Title VII issues and premises liability.
She also served for eight years in the office of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she was named Chief of the Trial Division. She served as counsel in more than 40 jury trials.
Hunter’s dismissal came a month after a union audit found that he failed to manage conflicts of interest, lacked proper corporate governance and didn’t disclose that his contract wasn’t properly ratified.
The former executive director is suing the union to get the remaining $10 million on his contract.
The audit, conducted by the New York-based law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP, concluded that while Hunter’s actions might not have been illegal, they reflected poor judgment. The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan is investigating union practices, which is one reason why, according to Mason, the finalists share two qualities: leadership abilities and very high integrity.