Thursday, April 14, 2011
Hours after the Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant directed an obscene antigay slur at a referee who had just whistled him for a technical foul, N.B.A. Commissioner David Stern fined him $100,000 on Wednesday and, in a statement, described Bryant’s remarks as “offensive and inexcusable.”
The N.B.A.’s action came shortly after Bryant issued his own statement, apologizing for the words he used and stating that they had come “out of frustration during the game, period.”
“The words expressed do not reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone,” he said.
Bryant’s slur and the quick reactions that followed came as the N.B.A. was concluding its regular season and the Lakers — one of the league’s marquee teams — were struggling to right themselves in time for the postseason, which begins this weekend.
The Lakers broke a five-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a home-court victory over San Antonio, but the Bryant incident — and an injury to center Andrew Bynum — created major distractions for the league’s defending champions as they continued to battle for a top playoff seeding.
The incident came midway through the third quarter of Tuesday’s game after a sequence of foul calls in which Bryant was called for his third offensive foul, argued, and was hit with his 15th technical of the season, one short of the number that leads to an automatic one-game suspension.
Bryant was then removed from the game by Coach Phil Jackson, and when he reached the bench, he slammed a chair, threw a towel and then yelled “Bennie” toward the referee Bennie Adams before uttering an antigay epithet that was captured on TNT’s national broadcast of the game.
It was not clear if Adams heard what was said, but the remark did lead the game analyst Steve Kerr to immediately comment that “you might want to take the cameras off him right now, for the children watching from home.”
Bryant later returned to the game and finished as the high scorer, with 26 points, as the Lakers won easily, 99-83. They remained tied with the Dallas Mavericks for second place in the Western Conference standings as both teams prepared to play their final games of the regular season on Wednesday night.
It was just four years ago that Bryant, who is now 32, found himself on the other side of a controversy generated by an antigay remark. In February 2007, the former N.B.A. star Tim Hardaway stated in a radio interview that “I hate gay people.”
The statement led the N.B.A. to quickly banish Hardaway from All-Star weekend festivities and drew a rebuke from Bryant, who said the comment showed that “it’s a struggle,” that “there’s a long way to go,” for gays to gain full acceptance.
“You have to be open-minded,” Bryant said then.
Hardaway’s comment was made in a controlled setting, Bryant’s in the heat of an N.B.A. game, when players routinely curse themselves, their opponents, their teammates and, occasionally, the referees, and much of what is said is overlooked.
But regardless of the setting in which the remarks are made, there is a recent history of people in sports using offensive slurs against gays and being punished for it.
Two years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs imposed a two-game suspension on running back Larry Johnson for using the same epithet that Bryant did Tuesday night. Johnson directed his at reporters and then also used it on his Twitter account. The Chiefs later reduced the suspension to one game.
The Chicago White Sox fined Manager Ozzie Guillen an undisclosed amount in 2006 after he used an antigay remark during a verbal tirade directed at Jay Mariotti, then a sports columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times.
Last year, Brent Bowers, then the manager of the minor league Edmonton Capitals, resigned after repeatedly using an antigay epithet to describe an openly gay umpire. Two years ago, in another incident that created consternation for the N.B.A., Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and Kenyon Martin of the Denver Nuggets engaged in a prolonged verbal dispute during a 2009 playoff series.
Cuban was accused of calling Martin a “thug,” and Martin directed a gay slur toward Cuban. The dispute ended with Cuban apologizing.
Bryant’s outburst Tuesday night came in a season in which the N.B.A. issued new rules to crack down on players who complain about technical-foul calls. Bryant is regarded as a player who frequently bickers over calls. Had he not had a previous technical rescinded on Monday, he would have been hit with a one-game suspension after the technical Tuesday.
His antigay remark drew a quick condemnation Wednesday from the Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization in the country.
“What a disgrace for Kobe Bryant to use such horribly offensive and distasteful language, especially when millions of people were watching,” the group said in a statement. It said Bryant and the Lakers “have a responsibility to speak up on this issue immediately.”
As for Stern, his words were nearly as pointed. “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated,” he said. “Kobe and everyone associated with the N.B.A. know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.”