MAKERS Profile

Violet Palmer

First Female Referee, NBA

In this video

Violet Palmer on her first NBA game, the resistance she faced, and earning the respect of colleagues and players.
Violet Palmer broke a major glass ceiling in sports in 1997 when she became the first woman to officiate in the NBA, as well as the first female official in any major U.S. professional sport.  While her entrance into the league drew the rancor of several players and coaches, her performance and professionalism quickly won over even her most vitriolic opponents.  Fifteen years later, she’s a respected league veteran with a growing number of playoff games under her belt.     Palmer grew up in a sports-loving family in the Compton section of Los Angeles.  Her basketball career began at Compton High, where she was a star point guard.  She attended Cal Poly Pomona on a sports scholarship and helped lead her team to two NCAA Division II national championships in 1985 and 1986.  After college, she worked as a recreation director for the city of Los Angeles and began refereeing on the side, starting with high school girls' games and working her way up to the NCAA women’s Division I.   Palmer spent nine seasons as one of the top women’s collegiate basketball officials.  She officiated five NCAA Women's Final Fours and two Women's National Championship games during her tenure.  She was recruited to the NBA’s referee training program in 1995 and began officiating NBA pre-season and exhibition games before getting her first shot the regular season in 1997.  In 2006, she became the first woman to officiate an NBA playoff game, an assignment reserved for the top-performing referees, and in 2009, she officiated in the NBA finals.

More From Violet

Learning Through Sports
Palmer considers the invaluable skills she's gained playing sports that translate into all aspects of life.

Given the Opportunity
Palmer expresses her belief that women only need equal opportunities, not a leg up.

A Full Life
Palmer on explaining to her mother her reasons for not marrying and having kids.

Being the First
Palmer's career proves nothing is impossible, whether or not it's been done before.

Players' Respect
Palmer talks about the especially warm and respectful treatment she gets from players in games today.

More Money, More Whine
Palmer admits that it's superstar players that tend to complain to the most about calls.

“Careers on the Line”
With so much at stake in every game, professional referees like Palmer strive for absolute fairness.

Moving Past Fear
Palmer describes her first NBA game as a ref - her extreme nervousness and how she got past it.

Brushing Off Criticism
Palmer explains why she never took personally the nasty clamor over her as a female referee.

My Trailblazer
Palmer remembers her mentor Coach Darlene May, a pioneering referee herself, who helped push Palmer to pursue the career.

The Lone Wolf
Palmer talks about often being the only girl playing sports with boys when she was growing up.