Kobe Bryant’s emotional use of a derogatory slang term toward gays aimed at a referee Tuesday night — caught and shown to a national television audience — has led to a hefty fine from David Stern and the league office.
“Kobe Bryant’s comment during last night’s game was offensive and inexcusable,” Stern said in a released statement. “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.”
Stern is right; there is no place for it. It doesn’t matter if it is a word commonly thrown around on many NBA courts and in junior high football locker rooms too, that does not make it right. To say it is a societal problem is both correct and does not absolve any one person.
Stern, of course, also has a league image issue to maintain. You can be sure that also was part of the reasoning for the large fine.
The incident happened in the second half, when Kobe picked up a technical foul for clapping his hands demonstratively after not getting a foul call he thought he had earned (it was one of the “respect the game” technical that have been called inconsistently all season for showing up referees). Kobe stormed to the bench afterwards, punched his chair and threw a towel.
Then — with the camera still on him closely — called referee Bennie Adams a derogatory name for homosexuals.
That incident caused an almost instant backlash and debate on twitter among NBA fans and carried on into today. Our own John Krolik wrote a thoughtful piece on the matter today.
Kobe himself issued this statement through the team:
“What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
Kobe called and spoke with an apologized to the heads of some gay and lesbian advocacy organizations. Phil Jackson sounded like a guy who just wanted to move on to the playoffs.
“It’s unfortunate he got caught saying something like that. It came in the heat of the game. He made his apology, and we move forward,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before his team faced the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.