Violet Palmer has historical success as a basketball player and as a referee. She was born and raised in Compton, CA and started playing basketball at five years old.
Palmer attended Compton high school and played for the girls’ basketball team. Her efforts would get her a scholarship to play basketball at Cal Poly Pomona. Darlene May, Palmer’s college coach, introduced officiating to her.
Palmer was a starting point guard for the Broncos women’s basketball team and ultimately became captain. She led the Broncos to two consecutive Division II NCAA championships in the mid-1980s. With 165 steals, Palmer is 10th overall in program history in the category.
In 1988, Palmer received a Bachelor of Science degree in recreation administration.
“There was no WNBA at the time,” Palmer said during a recent panel hosted by the L.A. Sparks. “I would have to go overseas and try to play basketball, which I really didn’t want to do.”
Palmer then became a recreation director in the City of Los Angeles. She occasionally acted as a substitute referee at her recreation center. Palmer also officiated high school girls’ basketball games in her spare time.
“I put that striped shirt on and everything changed for me,” Palmer said. “I just loved it.”
Palmer then started to referee college games and her efforts led her to officiate five NCAA Women’s Final Fours and two NCAA championships. She became one of the top NCAA referees for almost a decade.
“Then I received a phone call from the NBA and I was placed in their training program,” Palmer said. “I did that for three years.”
Although she was content with officiating on the college level, Palmer seized the opportunity of being a referee for pro basketball.
In 1997, Palmer became a referee for the WNBA during their inaugural season and refereed during the first WNBA finals. Later that year, she was offered a position with the NBA and became the first female NBA official along with Dee Kantner. The first NBA game that Palmer officiated was the season opening game for the then Vancouver Grizzlies, they battled against the Dallas Mavericks in the contest.
Palmer refereed 54 games during her first NBA season. In 1999, she won the Naismith Award for Official of the Year.
“I had no idea what I was getting into, all I knew was that I love refereeing,” Palmer said. “I knew that I had to the work ethic, I knew that I was an athlete, I knew that I caught on really, really quick as far as learning the difference between the pro game and the collegiate game.”
In 2006, Palmer officiated her first NBA playoffs game when she refereed game two of a first round series between the then New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers. Through this, she broke another barrier for female referees.
Palmer ultimately officiated nine different NBA playoffs games over six different seasons.
Since 2009, Palmer has become the coordinator of women’s hoops officials for the West Coast, Pac-12, and Western Athletic conferences.
Palmer also was an official for the 2014 All Star Game; that same year, she became the first openly gay referee in the NBA. After 18 seasons and officiating 919 games, Palmer retired from on-court duties.
Since her retirement, Palmer works as a manager in the NBA referee operations department. Last year, Palmer was inducted in the Cal Poly Pomona Athletics Hall of Fame.