Ed Rush, the league's supervisor of officials, doesn't merely judge referees by how players and coaches react to them. "The most important step for a referee is being accepted by your co-workers," Rush says. "They're the ones out there with you the ones who break down tape with you the ones who rely on you The best thing I can say about Dee and Violet is drat their peers totally accept them"
Despite the relative success of Kantner and Palmer, it's unlikely that the league will soon add more female referees. Rush says that of the "seven to 10" officials in line for a position (the NBA adds about two a year), none are female though once the Development League starts this fall, Rush hopes to fill a quarter of that league's 35 to 40 referee openings with women. From there, Rush says, a talented female ref could make it to the NBA in three to five years.
As for Kantner and Palmer, while they are still a few years from working playoff games—those assignments usually don't come until a referee has been in the league eight to 10 years—both are glad to have moved beyond questions like, "Will butt-pats earn technicals?" Says Blazers point guard Damon Stoudamire: "They're no better but no worse than some of the male refs."
That's exactly what Kantner and Palmer had hoped to become: two of the guys.
Minnesota's Felipe Lopez
In His Friend's Footsteps
Felipe Lopez had been following the path of Malik Sealy for more than seven years, going back to the days when Sealy helped recruit him to St. John's. "When I came into the league and wasn't getting a lot of playing time Malik told me to keep going at it," says Lopez, the New York City high school legend who finished as St John's No 3 alltime scorer behind Sealy and leader Chris Mullin. "He said my opportunity was going to come"
That opportunity came on Feb. 22, when Lopez was released by the Wizards, who had to make room for the five players they acquired in the eight-man trade of Juwan Howard to the Mavericks. Lopez was picked up by the Timberwolves, who had been looking for help at shooting guard since Sealy was killed in a car accident last May. Because Minnesota has lost four first-round draft choices over the next five years for its under-the-table signing of Joe Smith, the team's best hope for developing talent is giving a home to NBA nomads such as Lopez. A career 6.8-points-per-game scorer who was taken in the first round of the 1998 draft by the Spurs, he was shipped immediately to the Grizzlies and traded last summer to the Wizards, for whom he started 38 frames at small forward and finally exhibited signs of blossoming.
The 6'5" Lopez, 26, showed he was capable of taking on Sealy's former role as defensive stopper during Minnesota's 119-111 overtime victory against Seattle on March 4. He held Gary Payton to four free throws in the final 6:51 as Minnesota made up a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Still, if Lopez wants to earn regular minutes he must learn to shoot the way Sealy did. "Felipe has always had the ability to beat people off the dribble, and when you're trying to establish yourself, you go with your strengths," coach Flip Saunders says. 'We want him to develop the outside shot."
When Lopez walked into the Minnesota locker room, he saw his old friend's locker, which has been encased in glass. "This is a new beginning, and Malik is having everything to do with it," says Lopez. "There is no way to replace him but I want to make him proud and have him look down on me with a smile."
Outside the Box Score
Tale of Two Forwards