First woman elected NBPA executive director

Not a man's world anymore

Jordan Kobritzby Jordan Kobrtiz

“This is a man’s world; this is a man’s world…”
It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, by James Brown

That may have been the case in 1966, the year James Brown recorded his hit single that reached No. 1 on the Billboard R & B chart. But two recent female hires in the sports world suggest that, almost fifty years later, the world has changed.

On July 28 the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) elected Washington, D.C, attorney Michele Roberts as its new executive director, marking the first time a women has headed up a Major League sports union. A week later the NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs named Becky Hammon, a 16-year veteran of the WNBA, as an assistant coach. The moves were unrelated, except that combined they served to place an exclamation point on the concept of competence over sexual persuasion.

Los Angeles Clippers’ star Chris Paul, president of the players’ association, spoke for the executive committee members and team representatives who elected Roberts when he said he was “impressed by Roberts’ grace under fire, fresh ideas and quiet resolve” during an extensive interview process. Roberts was one of three finalists for the position after the search committee considered more than 300 applicants and interviewed 70 candidates. According to union bylaws, she needed a minimum of 26 votes from the 39 voting members for election. She garnered 32 votes on the first ballot. And why not?

Roberts was once described by Washingtonian magazine as “the finest pure trial lawyer in the nation’s capital.” While Roberts doesn’t have much negotiating experience, any successful trial attorney should be astute enough to quickly absorb sufficient institutional knowledge of the NBA’s inner workings to represent the players’ best interests. That’s more than can be said for the NBPA’s previous executive director, Billy Hunter, who was ousted eighteen months ago after representing the players – although there’s ample evidence to suggest that Hunter’s primary mission was to represent his and his family’s best interests – for 26 years.

Hammon, the second significant hire, became the first full-time, paid female assistant coach in a North American Major League team sport. While it may be merely coincidental that both Roberts and Hammon will work in the same sport, there is nothing surprising about Hammon being hired by the Spurs. Long viewed as the most progressive, competent and successful franchise in recent NBA history, the Spurs and their coach, Gregg Popovich, have often been referred to as innovative and forward-thinkers.

Hiring Hammon is merely the latest trail-blazing move by the team, which has led the league in signing international players. Although long-time team stalwarts Tim Duncan and David Robertson were number one overall draft picks, the Spurs’ success – five championships in the past 16 seasons – is more a result of design than luck.

Hammon’s accomplishments on the court are impressive. At 37, she is a six-time WNBA All-Star and twice has been named to the All-League team. She is seventh in points, fourth in assists and sixth in games played in WNBA history. Her basketball IQ has been described as off the charts. But all of those records and accolades wouldn’t amount to much if she didn’t have outstanding personal relationship and communication skills, traits that, when combined with her knowledge of the game, are guaranteed to make her successful as an NBA coach.

Last year Hammon worked with the Spurs coaching staff and players during practice. That’s when Popovich found out that she wanted to coach after her playing career was over. Needless to say, he was impressed. Popovich described Hammon’s audition as “perfect.” He went on to say, “She knows when to talk, and she knows when to shut up. That’s as simple as you can put it, and a lot of people don’t figure that out. … She knows how to do it, and our players really respond to her. She’s just a natural.” In this case, the Spurs weren’t being innovative, they just hired the best person for the job.

Might the presence of these two women in important and authoritative positions in the NBA be a lesson for other sports? We can’t ask Brown, even if we wanted to. He passed away in 2006. But here’s hoping his words are dead.


Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: Jordan can be reached at

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed