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US Air Force woman trailblazer to guide NBA referee operations

© Getty/AFP/File | Retired United States Air Force Academy Superintendent Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson, seen in 2015, is a command pilot with more than 3,600 flight hours

NEW YORK (AFP) - 

Retired Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson, the US Air Force Academy's first woman superintendent, was named Thursday as the NBA's new senior vice president and director of referee operations, the league announced.

Johnson, a top women's basketball player for Air Force before her 1981 graduation, will report to league operations president Byron Spruell when she begins work Monday, a day before the NBA's 72nd season tips off.

"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," Johnson said.

Johnson will lead referee recruitment, training, development and evaluation as well as oversee the NBA Replay Center for video oversight of certain calls and have a key role in the officiating advisory council.

"Michelle has decades of experience successfully leading large, highly professionalized organizations and spurring growth through innovation," Spruell said.

"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."

She replaces Mike Bantom, a 28-year NBA executive who will become a senior advisor on development initiatives with the league after five years in the post.

Johnson retired in August after four years as the Air Force Academy superintendent in Colorado. She had been the first woman cadet wing commander, first female Rhodes Scholar (1981-83) and first woman inducted into the Air Force Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

"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."

A command pilot with more than 3,600 flight hours, she was the Air Force aide to US Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton from 1992-94. She also spent two years as NATO's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Intelligence (2011-13).

© 2017 AFP