Former Air Force Academy boss Michelle Johnson to head NBA referee program

By: Tom Roeder

October 12, 2017 Updated: Today at 6:14 am

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Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson took over the reigns of the Air Force Academy during a Change of Command Ceremony on Monday, August 12, 2013. The outgoing Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael Gould is retiring after 37 years in the Air Force. Johnson is the first female to be Superintendent at the Air Force Academy. Lt. Gen. Johnson is addressing the media after the ceremony. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

The former head of the Air Force Academy is trading in her blue uniform for the black and gray garb worn by NBA referees.

The league announced on Thursday that retired Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson was hired as the NBA’s senior vice president and head of referee operations. Johnson, the first woman to lead the academy, is no stranger to the hardwood. The 1981 academy graduate scored 1,706 points for the Falcons’ women’s basketball squad, making her the second-leading scorer in the history of the team.

General speaks about mentorship at Women's Final Four
Brig. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson played on the Air Force Academy women’s basketball team in the late ’70s and early ’80s. General Johnson is a 1981 Air Force Academy graduate and four-year letter winner on the women’s basketball team. She holds the school records for career scoring average with 17.6 points per game and 689 career field goals made. She was the team co-captain in 1979 through 1981 and was an Academic All-American in 1980 and 1981. She was one of six people inducted into the inaugural class of the Academy’s Athletic Hall of Fame. General Johnson is currently the deputy director for the war on terrorism in the Strategic Plans and Policy Directorate of the Joint Staff. (U.S. Air Force photo) 

“Michelle has decades of experience successfully leading large, highly professionalized organizations and spurring growth through innovation,” NBA operations boss Byron Spruell said in a statement. “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 led the academy until August when Lt. Jay Silveria took command. During her four years in command at the school, Johnson battled to clean up an athletic program marred by scandal.

In December 2013, the academy was rocked by revelations that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations had used cadets as informants to spy on their classmates. Johnson called for an inspector general investigation into the allegations.

But the informant story would soon lead to more trouble – allegations that academy athletes had engaged in a pattern of misconduct that included drug abuse, sexual assault and cheating in class.

As the scandal made national headlines, Johnson ordered an investigation into the misconduct. She parted ways with longtime Athletic Director Hans Mueh and brought in current Athletic Director Jim Knowlton.

The Athletic Department kicked off new training programs and began more closely screening its recruits.

Last summer, Johnson said academy athletes went from sources of strife to role models.

“Now they are our shining stars,” Johnson told the school’s Board of Visitors.

Johnson issued a statement Monday saying her love of the game drew her back to basketball.

Lt. Gen. (sel.) Michelle D. Johnson. (photo by The Air Force Academy) 

“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,” she said.

Earlier, Johnson had said she wanted to lead a civilian college after leaving the academy. She was a finalist for the chancellor job at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

In her new role, Johnson will hire, evaluate and police those who police the court.

“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,” the league said.

Johnson said Thursday that her time in uniform will pay off for the basketball league.

“In the military, I always embraced the challenge of using all available resources to design and implement an ambitious agenda,” Johnson said. “I look forward to applying that experience to further elevate the NBA’s officiating program.”

Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx