life lessons from an NBA game: part 1

If you follow me on Instagram, it’s not much of a secret that we have NBA season tickets for the Sacramento Kings. It’s a promise we made to the team when their stay in town was in question, and a commitment that’s actually been quite fun to keep! We only have 2 tickets however, so that means that we rotate combinations among the three of us. And this past week, it happened to be two games where Miss L and I went together.

During the Kings vs. Thunder game, there was a unique situation that Miss L pointed out almost immediately from the start-of-game announcements.

We had a female referee: Lauren Holtkamp.

Miss L was so excited about it, which made me realize that it was something truly special if a 4 year old could notice it as something VERY different. Her reaction was surprising as well because one of our good friends is a statistician for the team, so we wave at her sitting at the front sideline tables. She’s a female anomaly, but as a friendly face you don’t really notice how she’s the only woman at the table.

Miss L followed Lauren around all game and pointed her out. Her ponytail jogged around and made it easy to spot her as well.

But as the game endured, I started to hear things coming out of the crowd that disturbed me greatly. And things that Miss L started turning her ear towards as well.

“Go back to the WNBA where you belong!”

“Get this woman off the court and get someone here who knows what they’re doing.”

“Do you even know what game they’re playing on the court?”

I actually stopped and wrote these quotes down in my phone so that I didn’t stand up and make a scene from our seats. Instead, I angrily tapped these into my phone as the heat just welled up inside.

“Why are they yelling at her mommy?”

“They think she’s doing a bad job at being a referee”

“Is she?”

“I don’t think so. I think they just don’t like her”

I wanted so badly to say “I think they just don’t like her because she’s a girl” but I stopped short. I didn’t want to bring that into the game for Miss L. She wouldn’t understand. Because she’s a 4.75 year old who loves everyone and has no idea that people think in silly ways. So I kept it short this time around.

The players reacted incredulously to her calls. Her fellow referees even called a review of one of her calls during the game… and in review saw that she was right and stayed the original call.

When other referees blew their whistle in a bad call, the crowd blamed it on her.

I really thought I was seeing things. So when I got up at halftime, I shook it off and came back with an open mind.

But it just kept going.

You see… the NBA isn’t the best place to find great referees. They do their best with what they’ve got, but when players are constantly allowed to break the rules, it just creates a situation where phantom calls and tiny infractions begin to disrupt the play of the game. And every single game has its bad bad calls. And fans screaming at the referees and boos erupting from the crowd. Heck, Mr. M knows his “not so favorite” referees by number!

But it wasn’t until I went to the Kings vs. Lakers game just days later that I realized just how horrible those anti-Lauren Holtkamp jeers had been.

Because this game was really bad as far as missed calls and phantom fouls go. And yet, I heard only 1 “slur” against a referee throughout the entire game. ONE. There was lots of boo-ing, but no nasty personal jeers. No extended calls for their job. Nothing. And this is a heated rivalry game where I saw 3 people get escorted out of their seats.

And I think that made me more upset than I was at the previous game.

Listen. I’m a former basketball player. I love and appreciate playing the game. I’m also a female basketball fan. Who spent the first few hours of her UCLA career not in the dorms meeting my roommates, but in Pauley Pavilion because I got an email that there was an NBA scrimmage I wouldn’t want to miss. Who takes her basketball loving daughter to NBA basketball games. And I have no idea why anyone would think a non-male would understand this game less than a male would.

But that was the sentiment that night.

And it made me sad for my daughter. I was 16 when the female 1996 Olympic “Dream Team” was impressing the world. I went to sold out women’s basketball games at Stanford and watched some of the most exciting basketball games of my life. The WNBA had started. I thought women and basketball were finally recognized as something more than a novelty back then. But it’s NOW. And it’s not. And that makes me mad. 

The world still isn’t all the way there. And it’s not just in basketball.

I’m so sorry that Lauren Holtkamp has to take the abuse of ignorant folks as a scapegoat for their sexism. But I’m oh so happy she is there, just as I’m very happy my friend is sitting at the center of the scorer’s table among all those men.

Because Miss L got to see that women can be a part of the NBA too. And she didn’t have to wait until she was 16 to see progress. She’s going to live it her whole life.

One Comment

  • Kate

    Hopefully this is just an ugly beginning and there will be many more female referees in Ms. L’s future. It’s always ugly for pioneers in their field.