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Violet Palmer, Pioneering Female NBA Referee, Retires

In 1997, the NBA broke down a barrier by hiring two female referees, Violet Palmer and Dee Kanter.

In 1997, the NBA broke down a barrier by hiring two female referees, Violet Palmer and Dee Kanter.

The ground breaking referees faced the expected backlash, from both players and fans. Statements of doubt in their abilities, curses from rowdy fans and other forms of disrespect surfaced every night they stepped onto the court to do their jobs. The “never one to hold his tongue”, Charles Barkley, even once said in during the 1997 preseason “I don’t think women should be in the Army and I don’t think they should be NBA refs.”

Words to have a full meal by.

Although Kanter was fired by the League in 2002, she eventually went on to become the WNBA’s supervisor of officials. But Palmer continued to develop, ultimately refereeing for two decades, a career which included officiating the 2014 NBA All Star Game. She also earned the respect of some of the same players and fans who once doubted her abilities, including Charles Barkley, who later apologized to her.


But nearly 20 years later, it appears that Palmer has decided to finally call it quits according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, leaving the hardwood due to injuries and health concerns.


Rod Thorn hired Palmer and Kanter in 1997 after closely examining not only their officiating skills, but also their character and mental toughness, knowing the challenges they would face both on and off the court. Palmer had the credentials and experience when she got the call in 1995 with an offer to enter the NBA’s referee training program. She was already one of the highest ranked officials in women’s college basketball and had refereed five NCAA women’s Final Fours, so she knew the game but still didn’t think it could materialize into a reality at the Pro level. “The truth was the NBA had never been on my radar because I thought it wasn’t attainable,” said Palmer to Barbara Barker of Newsday back in 2015.


But not only was it attainable, it was a career that she excelled in.

Now at the age of 51, Palmer leaves behind an open door for those who didn’t think it was possible. There are now two female coaches (Becky Hammon of the Spurs and Nancy Lieberman of the Kings) and multiple executives, and it’s due in large part because of the drive, talent and professionalism of Palmer to make people care of the quality of the calls versus the gender of the person making the calls.


Congratulations to Violet Palmer on an amazing, ceiling smashing, doubt eliminating career.