NBA referee Violet Palmer will culminate her career at the age of 52 after officiating 919 games for the league. Palmer broke the gender barrier in 1997, along with Dee Kanter, by becoming one of the first female referees in the NBA.
Palmer’s NBA career lasted for 18 years. Prior to her stint refereeing pro men’s basketball, Palmer spent nine seasons officiating division I NCAA basketball.
In 2006, Palmer became the first women to oversee a postseason game when she refereed a first-round playoff game against the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers. An NBA playoff game is assigned to top-performing referees. In 2009, she refereed for the NBA Finals.
Palmer also became the first openly gay referee in the NBA, marrying her partner in 2014.
Palmer, a Compton native, had a passion for sports in her formative years. During her time at Compton High School, Palmer became a standout point guard for the girls’ basketball team.
Her on-court performance was deemed worthy of an athletic scholarship to California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Palmer’s efforts helped the Broncos women’s basketball team earn two NCAA Division II championships in 1985 and 1986.
Dr. Aaron Wade, who helped train referees for the NBA, encouraged Palmer to officiate in pro men’s basketball.
“I received the call from Dr. Wade and had gotten into the NBA,” Palmer said to Sport Illustrated for Kids. “I just thought it was free and would be great training. So, I tried it.”
Her first game was against the then Vancouver Grizzlies, who played against the Dallas Mavericks. Players, reporters, and other referees did not accept Palmer’s presence on a NBA court.
Charles Barkley initially contested women being referees at the time. When fouls were called against players, they would offer to date her in exchange of changing the call. Broadcasters would recommend that she go cook breakfast when they disagreed with her calls.
However, Palmer persevered; she would review video of games she refereed to improve, getting feedback from fellow officials. Palmer stood strong on her calls, not allowing players to change her mind.
Soon, the respect from referees and players came in; even Barkley changed his opinion on Palmer. The audience was slower to accepting her. Palmer’s career lasted long enough for her to see other women become NBA officials.