The first woman to referee an NBA playoff game, and the only female referee working at that time in any major men's sport. (That includes the NFL
, and NHL
.) Violet Palmer refereed the Indiana Pacers versus the New Jersey Nets on April 25, 2006
When she was hired as an NBA referee, the WNBA did not even exist. She began as a two-time basketball champion at Cal Poly Pomona, in Southern California. Soon she was refereeing the highest division of collegiate basketball. And in 1995, she was recruited by the chief of staff for the Continental Basketball Association, Aaron Wade. His job was to develop referees for the NBA. Palmer wasn't interested at first. She had never considered the NBA; she never thought she could be involved with them, because the organization had exhibited no interest in involving women in any way. But she decided to give it a shot.
It turned out to be a brutal program: she had to work 74 games out of the 82 in the 2006 season and keep studying the NBA rulebook, the official's manual, and the casebook of plays sorted by category, and stay in good physical condition to keep up with the physically and mentally demanding work.
Why Violet Palmer? For one thing, she is confident, stern, strong, and athletic. She has accumulated extensive referee experience over the near-decade since she was recruited, even officiating the first season of WNBA games and the 1997 WNBA Championship. She is skilled at de-escalating arguments, especially at using her voice to calm players down. And obviously, she is a very hard worker. Her goals now are to become crew chief and work the NBA Finals. In a December 2006 profile for Jane and Jane Magazine, she remarked, "No one thought that I could do it. It was impossible. You could ask any man in the NBA that question, they would tell: 'Oh, that would never, never happen. No way. Never. Never, not if in a million years, Okay, they hired her but I never would think that they would ever put her in the playoffs.' And I did (it). On work ethic."