An Official and the Gentlemen
The NBA chose to make history as inconspicuously as possible last Friday night: at a game in British Columbia between two likely cellar dwellers. Before the tipoff between the Dallas Mavericks and the Vancouver Grizzlies at GM Place, Violet Palmer nervously chomped her gum and fidgeted with her barrette and fought the temptation to sway to the music of the Halloween pregame show. In the crowd a 12-year-old girl wore a referee's costume, whistle included, Palmer's appearance on court in similar garb was no masquerade. Despite the strong objections of a handful of NBA players, she was about to become the first female in league history to officiate a regular-season game.
Palmer, 33, stared blankly while shaking hands with the teams' captains before the tipoff. "Her eyes were as big as saucers," said Mavericks swingman Michael Finley after the game. "I know she was as nervous as any of us players." After two minutes of play Finley was glaring at Palmer when she made an out-of-bounds call that he disagreed with. A fan within earshot bellowed at her, "You're brutal! Brutal!" But working with veterans Bill Oakes and Mark Wunderlich, Palmer maintained her composure and reffed the sort of low-impact game favored by third officials. She made her first foul call nearly nine minutes into the first period and then blew her whistle 18 more times. Once, on an out-of-bounds call against the Grizzlies' George Lynch, she was overruled by Oakes.
The players made some adjustments. Bumping into Palmer in the fourth quarter, Grizzlies swingman Blue Edwards instantly jumped back and raised his hands. "I realized it was a lady, man!" Edwards explained. Dallas forward Dennis Scott, who had bemoaned the inclusion of a woman in a "man's game," drew a call for hand-checking from Palmer. He walked to the scorer's table and rolled his eyes. "Damn these new...," Scott said, smiling, "...rules."
In the locker rooms after the Mavericks' 90-88 win, Palmer received praise for the firmness of her decisions and almost universal acceptance. NBA vice president Rod Thorn, who orchestrated Palmer's relatively obscure debut, will find a spot this week for the league's other female zebra, Dee Kantner, to begin her career. Says Thorn of Palmer, "She did her job, like the other two officials on the court. The better she performs, the more anonymous she'll become."
Beat the Press
When Jim Kelly retired last January after 11 seasons as the Buffalo Bills' quarterback, he left the bruising arena of the NFL for what he thought would be the cushy aerie of an NBC broadcasting gig. But on Oct. 25 the now helmetless Kelly reportedly took a head shot from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, whom Kelly had called a "baby" on the air. Harbaugh wound up with a broken hand, proving once again that for those who comment on today's thin-skinned athletes, a hard noggin is a plus. A few other recent skirmishes from the journalistic front lines.
•Mike Webster vs. Aaron Sanderford. In a column in the Oct. 27 issue of the Kentucky Kernel, the school paper, Sanderford laments that some fans consider the Wildcats a "laughingstock." Offensive lineman Webster, thinking Sanderford had dubbed the team a laughingstock, spits in his face.
•Dominik Hasek vs. Jim Kelley. Kelley writes in an April 22 column in The Buffalo News that the erratic behavior of the Sabres' goaltender during the play-offs was the result of "the pressure of having to be unbeatable." Outside the Sabres' locker room, Hasek has to be restrained after grabbing Kelley's shirt and ripping his collar.
•Manny Dies vs. Todd Stewart. In the Jan. 27 edition of K-State's Collegian, columnist Stewart labels Dies, a Wildcats junior forward, "the worst player in the history of college basketball." Dies and a teammate allegedly bash in Stewart's door and threaten him. They plead not guilty to assault, criminal damage to property and criminal trespass charges. A trial is set for Nov. 12-13.