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Woman referee makes pro sports history in Vancouver

Nov. 3, 1997

Associated Press

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Acting businesslike and calm, except perhaps for some intense gum chewing, Violet Palmer made professional sports history Friday night by becoming the first

woman to officiate an NBA game.

Referee No. 66 walked onto the court at General Motors Place 15 minutes before tipoff between the Dallas Mavericks and Vancouver Grizzlies, the music thumping so loudly on the public address

system that she couldn't have heard the crowd's reaction had there been one.

When her name was announced just before tipoff, there was no response from the crowd.

Mostly, it seemed to be just another opening night for the fans, players and coaches. Hardly anyone paid much attention to the fact that the referee with the headband holding back her collar-length

hair was a woman.

Before long, the fans were booing her just as they would anyone else in stripes.

The first whistle blown by a woman in an NBA game came at the 9:52 mark of the first quarter when Palmer ruled that the Grizzlies had knocked the ball out of bounds after a rebound under the Dallas

basket. The crowd booed, giving her an appropriate welcome into the NBA refereeing brotherhood.

'I'm sure that must have made her feel at home,' said Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president of operations.

At the 6:22 mark, she made another out-of-bounds call and drew the ire of Dallas' Michael Finley, who lodged a brief, animated complaint about 10 inches from her face.

Palmer's first foul call was on Dallas' Anthony Peeler, against A.C. Green, with 3:06 left in the quarter.

Vancouver coach Brian Hill was one of the few who acknowledged the special nature of Palmer's night of work.

Just before the players were introduced, the new Grizzlies' coach walked to the front of the scorer's table and shook Palmer's hand.

'Congratulations,' he said, 'and good luck to you.'

There were other hints that this wasn't quite a normal night.

After Palmer first walked onto the court, she stood between the other two members of the officiating crew, Mark Wunderlich and Billy Oakes, each with an arm around her, and posed for a picture.

As the game approached, she went to the Dallas end of the court and brought Green, smiling broadly and joking with her, to center court for the routine meeting of the captains.

Her serious pre-game demeanor was broken only once, when Oakes leaned over and said something to her, triggering a broad grin.

Thorn made the cross-continent trip from New York to watch the first woman to officiate a major men's professional sport.

'It's certainly a historic night,' he said.

He departed from his usual practice of not commenting on the referees to make a halftime assessment.

'I just had a real warm feeling, sitting there and watching the first half transpire.' Thorn said. 'It's been a good competitive game and the referees have really been a non-factor, which you like to see. I think she's really handled herself well so far.'

The NBA announced Tuesday that Palmer, 33, and Dee Kantner, 37, were among five new officials that would referee in the league this year. Kantner didn't work Friday, but Palmer, by the luck of the

draw, Thorn said, found herself on the outer reaches of NBA territory officiating a game between two of the league's lesser teams.

Thorn noted that both women had worked their way through the ranks as any male referee would, through the summer leagues and, for the past two years, in the exhibition season.

Thorn reluctantly agreed that the NBA, often a groundbreaker in pro sports, finds itself at the forefront again.

'I guess you could say that,'' Thorn said, 'because we're the first professional sport to do this. But we're just looking for good referees.''

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