Inside the Grand Floridian hotel, out of the soupy Florida heat, a wave of relief washed over Michele Roberts. For months, Roberts, the Executive Director of the NBA’s players association, worked tirelessly with league officials to piece together its return. Medical protocols needed to be worked out. Then, the financials. Yet even when an agreement had been hammered out, Roberts worried: How would players respond to months of isolation?
Not bad, it turns out. “In some ways I didn't think it would be as forgiving as it has been,” Roberts told SI in an extended interview. There were the expected complaints. Players didn’t enjoy the 48-hour hard quarantine they received upon arrival. “I think had it been longer than that,” Roberts said, “then it may have been more problematic.” Those buzzing Roberts tell her how much they miss friends, family. “The good news is that's pretty much 99% of what I hear in terms of complaints,” Roberts said. “And at the end of the day, the guys have said, ‘I got to go to work. I'm at work, I'm doing my job.’”
Roberts will admit: There were days she didn’t think the NBA would get here. On March 11, as the coronavirus pandemic raged across Europe and cases in the U.S. began to grow, Roberts met with Adam Silver. Roberts had watched the virus spread overseas. “Milan is one of my favorite cities,” Roberts said. “It was virtually shut down the first week in March. When Roberts met with Silver, the discussion was not if players would start testing positive, but how to respond when they do.
The months that followed were a roller coaster. Roberts watched the U.S. grind to a halt. She struggled to find hope in how a contact sport could be played while a highly contagious disease swept through the nation. After a few weeks, Roberts says, “I started preparing players for the season to be called.”