As he watches Mourning fight for his life, Riley says he realizes basketball has become a short-term gig. He can commit himself to each game knowing that he has only two or three more years to go. "If I thought I would be doing this long time, I would be depressed," Riley says. "When I'm finished with this, I want to spend the next 30 or 40 years on a sandy beach somewhere, and I don't want to be sitting there worrying that the Knicks are going to get me at the last minute."
Update: Women Referees
Confident and Comfortable
Late in the second quarter of a January game between the Timberwolves and the Trail Blazers, referee Dee Kantner called a foul on reserve swingman Todd Day for planting a knee in the back of Portland guard Steve Smith. Day fixed Kantner with his best Joe Pesci mafioso glare to which Kantner calmly replied, "With the body" Exasperated Day shot back "It's a body game!" But before he could complain further he was benched.
Whereas once Kantner might have second-guessed herself on such a call, she now brims with confidence. "You want to teach me that it's a body game?" she says, stifling a laugh. "That's not news to me. Posture all you want, it's not going to change the call." A month after that encounter Day was no longer in the league waived by the Timber-wolves Female referees like Kantner on the other hand appear to be in the NBA to stay.
It has been four years since Kantner and Violet Palmer joined the 62-person officiating crew as major pro sports' first female officials. Both Kantner and Palmer say they are finally feeling comfortable—or, as Palmer puts it, like "one of the guys." That certainly wasn't how they felt in November 1997, when you'd have thought the NBA was instituting a ban on PlayStations from the indignant reaction of players to the distaff refs' arrival. Brian Williams a Pistons center at the time called it "just more '90s bull political correctness."
Others bemoaned the painful civility they feared would ensue, but questions about players' verbal conduct were short-lived. "Oh, that went out the window right away," says Palmer. "If a guy is going to call [a man] an a———, he's going to call me an a———. That was never an issue."
So, four seasons later, how are Palmer and Kantner being graded? On the record, the majority of players and coaches say that both refs have improved, especially their confidence. "It's not like in the beginning, when they would take everything thrown at them," says 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo. "Now, when you say something they look you in the face and make sure you don't take them lightly."
Sixers coach Larry Brown, who had worried that a female presence might change the dynamic of a game, agrees. "At first I was dead set against it," he says. "I've seen tremendous improvement on the part of both of them. I haven't felt uncomfortable, and I haven't noticed our players uncomfortable in their behavior."
Off the record, though, the two women have their share of critics. One Western Conference coach believes Palmer "has not made the kind of progress that would tell me it's been a good experiment for her. Her judgments aren't good, and she takes a lot of heat." An Eastern Conference player put his opinion of both refs a little more succinctly saying, "Them mother———s are terrible."
Palmer correctly points out that players and coaches say negative things about refs all the time. "It's just that you read about it with us because we're the women refs," she says.