The Dallas Mavericks and Vancouver Grizzlies were on their best behavior. There was a lady in the house.
Violet Palmer’s barrier-smashing appearance as an NBA referee came and went without a sexist peep in General Motors Place. Shawn Bradley says that having women on the court might even bring some improvement in players’ manners.
“That’s good,” he said. “A lot of us need that.”
Palmer didn’t reply when reporters shouted a few questions at her as she left the court following Friday night’s 90-88 season-opening Dallas victory.
Rod Thorn, the NBA’s vice president for operations, who made the transcontinental trek to witness what he called “a historic night” said the league was sticking by its policy of not allowing officials to talk to reporters after games.
“She’s like any other referee now,” Thorn said.
To Thorn, maybe. To the players, not yet.
“I think guys were kind of scared to say the same things that they would to a male referee,” said Vancouver’s Shareef Abdur-Rahim. “I’ve got a mother and sisters, so I don’t want to say anything to a woman ref that I wouldn’t say to them. They’d probably call and give me a bad time if I said something bad to her.”
The players insisted that, down the road, they will treat her like any other ref, but perhaps tem pered with a little more respect.
“You don’t want to say whatever to a lady. You want to be polite,” Vancouver’s Blue Edwards said. “But again, to me, she’s just an official. I don’t see a female referee. I see a referee.”
Bradley said that players always have to adjust their behavior to the personality of each official.
“Now we’ve got those old female emotions in there as well,” he said. “There are some things that guys say, guy to guy, that if it was said to a woman, it could be offensive. So a guy’s got to watch it. If they say something like that, she doesn’t like it and calls a technical. You’ve got to accept it.”
At least publicly, these players accepted her appearance as a sign of the times.
“It’s the age we’re in where I don’t see logically or morally where you could try and stop a woman ref from being an NBA referee,” Abdur-Rahim said. “That is the same as blacks not being able to go here or there or a woman not being able to vote. It doesn’t bother me. As long as they make the right calls, I’m fine.”
The supervisor of officials for the National Hockey League, Bryan Lewis, praised the NBA for becoming the first men’s professional sport to turn to women’s officials.
“Women can be firefighters, soldiers and police,” Lewis told The Vancouver Sun. “And it won’t be long before there’s a woman who meets the requirements to referee in the professional hockey ranks.”
Not everyone liked every call Palmer made or didn’t make. Dallas coach Jim Cleamons was especially unhappy with two quick fouls she called against Bradley and Dennis Scott late in the game.
“In my opinion, a good official, you don’t make that call,” Cleamons said. “It was a non-veteran official call. You say, ‘Get your hand off. Remove your hand’ because the play is still 40 feet away. You don’t have to make that call. It has nothing to do with the flow of the game.”
Michael Finley didn’t like an early out-of-bounds call by Palmer, complaining briefly but with great expression, and Scott and Bradley each threw in their opinions after those late fouls.
But such moments are routine for any official on any night. The polite Canadians in the crowd never once used her gender as a basis for criticism, at least not loud enough for anyone to hear.
“I think she’s fantastic,” said season ticket holder Rowena Kleinman. “She really kept her cool. I wish her well.”