Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Profile

Violet Palmer

First Female NBA Referee

More From Violet

In this video

Violet Palmer on her first NBA game, the resistance she faced, and earning the respect of colleagues and players.

Violet's Biography

Next Barrier to See Broken: Women coaches in the NBA.
Advice to Young Women: “I really believe that if you really enjoy what you’re doing it’s not work. I go to work every day and it’s not work for me.
Greatest Inspiration: Nelson Mandela. “To see someone preserve through such adversity and come out smiling and still wanting to treat people, people that have treated him so horribly, with love and respect, I think it’s admirable.”
Biggest Fans: Her mother and father never miss any of their children’s sporting events when they were young. Now, she makes sure her mother and father have a NBA League Pass on cable so they can still catch every game.

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.

Related Videos

Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor
First Female Justice at the U.S. Supreme Court

Sandra Day O’Connor is the daughter of ranchers—and, equally, of the land on the New Mexico-Arizona border that she and her family worked during the Great Depression. S...

Judith Jamison
Judith Jamison
Artistic Director Emerita, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison joined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1965 and over the next 15 years, originated some of Mr. Ailey's most enduring roles, most n...

Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick
Champion Race Car Driver

Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing, and is one of the most famous and recognized female athletes in the world. She is the only...

Martina Navratilova
Martina Navratilova
Champion Tennis Player

Martina Navratilova is a tennis legend. Born and raised in Communist Czechoslovakia, she defected to the United States at 18 years old, leaving her family behind in order to pursue...