The National Basketball Players Association made history last month by electing Michele Roberts, the first woman to head a major North American sports union, as its new executive director. Roberts replaces the ineffective and possibly criminal Billy Hunter, who will probably be best remembered as the guy who ceded seven percent of basketball-related income to the owners during the most recent lockout. Or maybe it’ll be the abuse of funds/conflict of interests audit. Either way, he sucked.
For anyone to win over the NBA’s election process so convincingly (she received 32 of 34 votes) is impressive, but not only is Roberts, yes, a woman, but she has never worked in either sports or labor relations. She’s a lawyer who most recently worked in white-collar crime.
How did she do it? If these quotes from her New York Times profile from over the weekend are any indication, Roberts is the closest thing we’ll ever have to a real life “Game Of Thrones” character. She’s ruthless, ambitious, brilliant — but most of all, she spits one-liners that sound straight out of a TV script. (SPOILER ALERT: The following analysis delves into show details.)
Roberts draws comparisons to many a character. The obvious choice is Cersei Lannister, the cunning matriarch-in-waiting who relishes her position as an overlooked female player for the throne. Roberts conceded as much in her private meeting with players last month in a Vegas ballroom:
“I bet you can tell I’m a woman,” she said, “and I suspect the rest of the world can, too.”
We hesitate to compare any real-life person to Cersei, however, because Cersei is a bitch who bangs her brother and is just a few notches short of completely insane. Roberts appears level-headed.
Rather, we like the Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish comparison a bit more — Roberts is an unmarried woman, without children, who came out of nowhere (she was a long shot among 300 original candidates for the job) to seize power. Plus, there’s this:
“My past,” she told the room, “is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”
WHOA. That’s a little dramatic, and we hope it’s not literal, but damn is it compelling. Still, we know so little of Littlefinger’s true intentions at this point that it’s hard to feel good about rooting for him. How about Theon Greyjoy, who grew up a captive of House Stark and turned those feelings of being an outcast into grand plans for world domination (which ultimately fell a bit… short)?:
After attending public schools in the Bronx, Roberts earned a scholarship before her sophomore year of high school to attend the Masters School, a boarding school for girls in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. Roberts was one of two black students in her grade, and for the first time, she felt like an outsider.
“It was actually some of the best training for my professional life,” Roberts said. “Once I realized that being different does not mean being inferior — I scoff at that nonsense if I see it.”
Roberts was miserable there, but few knew it. While classmates interviewed this month recalled her intelligence and sharp observational humor, Roberts mostly recalls uncomfortable social interactions.
And there are a ton of brutal warrior/leader types — Tywin Lannister, Stannis Baratheon, Roose Bolton — who would say things like these:
In her senior yearbook, she quoted Malcolm X and Nikki Giovanni: “Joy is finding a pregnant roach and squashing it.”
Standing near a window at the end of the interview, Roberts apologized to a photographer. “I don’t smile much,” she said.
Of course, we can’t fit Roberts into one character type — she seems like an amalgamation of everything bad-ass about the show, except that she’s real and probably won’t dip Adam Silver’s head in molten gold, or invite the NBA owners over for dinner only to slaughter them all. But the players will need someone to stand up for their interests in 2017, at the next expected labor negotiation, and it sounds like they made the right choice.
Photo via screencap