NBA: Referee reveals he is gay in wake of Rondo insults, player punished for anti-gay slur

Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans speaks with referee Bill Kennedy #55 (left) at the Smoothie King Centre on Oct 31, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans speaks with referee Bill Kennedy #55 (left) at the Smoothie King Centre on Oct 31, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Bill Kennedy, a National Basketball Association (NBA) referee for 18 seasons, revealed that he is gay after being the subject of homophobic insults from Sacramento guard Rajon Rondo, Yahoo Sports reported on Monday.

Rondo was banned on Friday for one game after repeated insults and a confrontation with Kennedy during a Dec 3 game between the Kings and Boston at Mexico City. Kennedy ejected Rondo on two technical fouls to arouse the player's anger.

"I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man," Kennedy told Yahoo Sports. "I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no one to make you feel ashamed of who you are."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver made a statement of support for Kennedy to Yahoo Sports.

"I wholeheartedly support Bill's decision to live his life proudly and openly," Silver said. "Throughout his 18-year career with the league, Bill has excelled as a referee because of his passion, dedication and courage. Those qualities will continue to serve him well both as a game official and as a positive influence for others.

"While our league has made great progress, our work continues to ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity."

Kennedy, 49, has officiated 1,056 NBA games and 68 play-off contests, including five NBA Finals. He also worked at the 2010 World Championships and 2012 London Olympics.

He was the second NBA referee to announce that he is gay, Violet Palmer making the same declaration in 2014 upon marrying her long-time partner.

National Basketball Referee's Association general counsel Lee Seham told Yahoo Sports that other league referees back Kennedy.

"The NBA referees stand by Bill Kennedy for the job he does and who he is," he said. "We stand against bigotry in all its forms."

Rondo will miss Sacramento's game against Houston on Tuesday and lose US$86,300 (S$121,700) in salary as a result.

He is the third NBA player to be punished for an anti-gay slur, but the first to be suspended.

Chicago Bulls centre Joakim Noah was fined US$50,000 during the 2011 play-offs for making a slur towards a heckling fan and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was fined US$100,000 for using an anti-gay slur towards a referee earlier that same season. Noah and Bryant later apologised for their remarks.