(Update: The NBA announced that the referees mentioned in this piece are not full-time referees, just on assignments for now. This still doesn't take away from the tone of the column, though, and our take on the NBA's approach to announcing the additions to staff.)
Quietly, without any fanfare or so much as a press release on the league's main or media website, the NBA introduced two more female referees to its 70-person referee crew for the 2012-13 season. Lauren Holtkamp worked Friday night's Chicago Bulls triumph over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Brenda Pantoja was part of the crew that oversaw Atlanta's win over Oklahoma City on Sunday. The two joined longtime vet Violet Palmer, and in a sign of just how times have changed since Palmer and former ref Dee Kantner joined the league in 1997, the NBA didn't even bother to type up a showy, self-congratulating announcement when Holtkamp and Pantoja were hired, or made their debuts.
The league just handed out promotions to two D-League veterans that it thought were worthy of an NBA gig. No bigs.
The anonymous nature of the hiring extended to the league's fan base, which is always a tweet or blog post away from turning something relatively innocuous into the NBA's Next Big Deal. Outside of their presence in the box scores linked to above, a short (and mostly unnoticed) blog post from the NBA.com's great longtime league follower Scott Howard-Cooper regarding their consideration from last July, and a short anecdote by the just-as-great Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, the hirings have been mostly overlooked. Heck, I watched just about all of the Cavs/Bulls game on Friday (with contact lenses in both eyes!) and didn't notice Holtcamp's presence until skimming the box scores later in the weekend.
Good news throughout, but we should point out that the mere mention of Violet Palmer's name is sure to put both Holtkamp and Pantoja on iffy standing with the slower-thinking members of the NBA's fandom, initially at least.
Palmer is not a good NBA referee, but because she was a groundbreaker in joining the league with Kantner back in 1997, she has unfortunately become the NBA's most celebrated bad referee. Even more visible types like Joey Crawford and Dick Bavetta — though loathed in many fan circles — are grudgingly acknowledged as fine referees by grumbling NBA fans even after being shouted down as bums just a second before. Palmer is not the worst referee by any stretch, but her visibility, novelty, and growing amount of dodgy calls in the presence of 30 NBA fan bases has won the movement its fair share of detractors.
Of course, this isn't really a "movement." This is just an acknowledgement by the NBA that Holtkamp and Pantoja are ready for the job. And, based on the (non) reaction in NBA circles during the Bulls and Hawks wins over their opening weekend, it appears as if they've adapted nicely so far during their rookie season.
And credit the NBA, no stranger to patting itself on the back, for treating the hiring as a non-story. We're treating their non-story as a story, as we now resume our regularly scheduled heckling from afar.
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