The NBPA’s Tamika Tremaglio has her hands full, but everything she does comes back to one thing: setting players up for success. She takes Boardroom through her myriad responsibilities.
Tamika Tremaglio fully grasps the importance of a healthy relationship between athlete and institution. Just a year into her position as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), the Maryland native has played a crucial role in increasing the league’s social justice activism and revitalized talks of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Perhaps most importantly, Tremaglio has restored the trust between players and the union.
A graduate of Mount St. Mary’s with a law degree from University of Maryland and an MBA from University of Baltimore, Tremaglio is also a trained forensic accountant. Prior to this promotion, the mother of two was a consultant for the NBPA for 10 years and helped spearhead the WNBA‘s labor discussions.
On the same day the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons squared off in Paris, Tremaglio talked with Boardroom about the NBA‘s continued overseas presence, how the NBPA supports players in difficult situations, and one of her most prized possessions.
VINCIANE NGOMSI: Tell us about your background, from when you got started to what led you to an executive director role with the NBPA.
TAMIKA TREMAGLIO: So I had been in consulting for about 26 years, working in different entities. But the one I think I spent the most time in was consumer product and entertainment. I had been working with the WNBPA and NBPA for about 12 years prior to taking on this role. So I was very familiar with the industry and what was going on with the players and the role sort of found me years later.
VN: I think people know that a player’s association exists across different leagues, but I would argue that a lot of people do not know how they function and what services they provide. Could you explain what the NBPA does?
TT: What I find shocking is that, in my opinion, people believe that the NBA are the players. It’s not the players specifically, but rather team owners, coaches and representatives. They’re the machine that all of those things work through. At the NBPA, we represent the 450 players that make up the league. Not that it’s the impetus behind this, but when you think about us sort of having our group licensing rights, etc, it would give us more brand recognition and the ability to sell things that are within the NBPA without the players necessarily being the wall.
I think that is something that we have to work on, building this brand recognition. But as the executive director of the NBPA, I do spend the majority of my time on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). That is the top priority at the moment, however we are looking at business opportunities and focused on the development, protection, and safety of our players first and foremost. CJ [McCollum, NBPA president] embodies a sort of entrepreneurial spirit, and has already started working on projects outside of basketball. Whether the ball’s still bouncing or not, he’s positioned himself toward something he’s passionate about long-term. Using him as an example, we are making sure our players can one day see themselves as owners other execs. After all, the sports industry is one of the fastest growing in the United States.
In addition to my job as executive director, I’m also the CEO and chairman of the board of our commercial entity Think450. That’s where we’re really focused on generating revenue based on the group licensing of our players. When I first started working with the union, the average licensing check was probably $30,000 or $40,000 a player. It’s about 10 times that now.
Finally, there’s a developing protection around marijuana use. It’s legal in many states, so why are we precluding it for our players? Like all things, everything in moderation. We want to find a balance between drug tests and allowing players to have a personal life where they can unwind how they see fit.
VN: We’re in Paris, where the NBA’s mission continues to be global expansion, and part of that process involves playing a regular season game in Mexico City. What has been the most rewarding part of seeing this entire week take shape and what does this mean for the future?
TT: It’s always so exciting to me to see the people’s reaction when meeting our players outside of the country and certainly we see it within the United States as well. Everyone here has on their best game day outfit alongside their favorite Air Jordans and we hear murmurs of who they’re excited to see play. In Japan, I even noticed there were more women basketball fans. You can’t say the same in the States, but it’s a sign of the times. Basketball overseas is ushering a new level of diversity and you have to remember, 25% of active players in the NBA are international.
Take Killian [Hayes] for example. Playing in Paris is like coming home for him, because France is where he first fell in love with the game. Now Killian’s sharing bits of his culture with his teammates, which helps them understand the sort of life he lived here. These moments solidify that the work we are doing is more than just having games for entertainment. We’re actively introducing fans to new cultures.
VN: What can you tell me about the NBA’s increased efforts in Africa?
TT: So there is no question that we are serious about an Africa presence. Even seeing the 2023 Basketball Africa League Combine earlier this week in Paris was incredible. The NBA just opened its fourth office in Cairo last week. It’s remarkable to see how quickly it’s growing. We also have so many of our players who are from Africa doing philanthropic work as well. Bismack [Biyombo] for instance donated his salary to build a hospital in his later father’s honor in his home country the Democratic Republic of Congo. I believe at the moment, we have 10% of players who are either from the continent or have parents of African descent. Playing basketball should not be limited to where you grew up. People of all socioeconomic groups deserve a life-changing moment to play this sport.
VN: Players are constantly subjected to harsh criticisms, whether judged by their performance on the court or things that happen away from the hardwood. How closely are you able to work with the players to ensure that whatever they’re going through, they still feel supported?
TT: So, obviously we want our players to always feel supported. But we also recognize that as a union we represent 450 of them, and they all have varying opinions on different things. If there was something hateful, prejudiced, etc., it’s not something we support. However, we still want to make sure our players are educated on said topic. If it means offering resources to help them through whatever has occurred as a result of an action, that is exactly what we will do.
We all bring to the table something very unique and different, and so my perspective on something as an African American woman may be very different than someone else’s perspective, and that’s okay. Certainly many of them who voice their opinion are all generally in agreement. But on those one or two rare occasions they feel like they’re standing alone, we want to protect them. Even if we don’t agree with them, we are always there to support them. That’s our job. But at the same time we recognize that when we speak as a union, we have to make sure it aligns with our values and our mission.
VN: Players in the WNBA play overseas in the offseason, but could we ever see an overseas WNBA game of this caliber?
TT: So we were actually talking about that when we were in Africa, because there’s a huge desire to have our women there. So I know that it is something they’re at least entertaining, there’s no question. I think the other thing is the latest [WNBPA] CBA negotiation actually allows our women to have a share in revenue. Before, that wasn’t happening.
Our men and women work very closely together. There’s probably not more than a week that goes by that CJ and Nneka [Ogwumike] haven’t conversed in something. Our men are incredibly supportive of our women as they are of our men.
VN: Final question. What’s one thing people don’t know about you?
TT: When CJ was over a few weeks ago I asked him: ‘Want to see my motorcycle?’ My dad is an avid Harley Davidson rider, and so I’ve come to enjoy motorcycles as well. I enjoy anything with motors, quite frankly. I love cars and motorcycles, all those things. When I turned 50, my dad gave me one of his. I have an Indian, which I’m really proud of. Growing up, my dad always said: ‘If the boys were doing it, you could do it, too.’
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