The NBA announced today that retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, the first woman to lead the United States Air Force Academy, has been named Senior Vice President and Head of Referee Operations. She will begin on Oct. 16 and report to President, League Operations Byron Spruell.
Johnson, a distinguished 1981 graduate of the Air Force Academy and one of the top women’s basketball players in school history, will direct the NBA’s officiating program with responsibility for the recruitment, training, development and evaluation of all referees. She will also oversee the NBA Replay Center and leverage the new Officiating Advisory Council as well as manage the league’s transparency initiatives and harness advanced technologies to enhance all facets of the officiating program.
“Michelle has decades of experience successfully leading large, highly professionalized organizations and spurring growth through innovation,” said Spruell. “With a disciplined, analytical approach to problem solving and a proven track record of building consensus and acting with the utmost integrity, Michelle has the qualities to maximize the effectiveness of our officiating program.”
Johnson will replace Mike Bantom, who is transitioning into a new role with the league after five years as Executive Vice President, Referee Operations. Bantom, a 28-year NBA executive, will be a senior adviser on several development initiatives critical to the league’s operations.
“Mike has represented the best of the NBA during his nearly 30 years of service,” said Spruell. “His passion and diligence are reflected in the strength of our officiating program. We’re fortunate to continue benefiting from his expertise and counsel as he serves in a new but familiar capacity with the NBA.”
Johnson served with distinction in various Air Force assignments before retiring in August. Most recently, she spent four years as the Air Force Academy’s 19th superintendent – equivalent to a college president. The first woman to hold the position, Johnson directed a four-year regimen of military training, academics, athletics and character-development programs for more than 4,000 cadets.
“My love for basketball and the opportunity to help shape the direction of a key operational group within the NBA made this position incredibly appealing to me,” said Johnson. “In the military, I always embraced the challenge of using all available resources to design and implement an ambitious agenda. I look forward to applying that experience to further elevate the NBA’s officiating program.”
Johnson’s tenure as superintendent of the Air Force Academy marked her latest trailblazing accomplishment. Previously, she was the Air Force’s first female cadet wing commander, first female Rhodes Scholar (1981-83) and first female inductee into the coSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame (2007). A three-time basketball team captain and the second-leading scorer in school history, she was also the first woman inducted into the Air Force Sports Hall of Fame (inaugural class of 2007).
Before becoming superintendent, Johnson spent two years as NATO’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Intelligence (2011-13) and served stints at the Pentagon as the Air Force’s Deputy Director for Information and Cyberspace Policy (2007-09) and Director of Public Affairs (2005-07). A command pilot with more than 3,600 flight hours, she was the Air Force aide to Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton from 1992-94.
Upon retirement in August, Johnson received the Distinguished Service Medal. Her awards and decorations also include the Defense Superior Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters and the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster. In addition, she earned the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.