Sacramento guard Rajon Rondo returns Friday against the Timberwolves from a one-game suspension for homophobic slurs he directed at NBA official Bill Kennedy during a Dec. 3 game. Kennedy subsequently came out publicly by telling Yahoo Sports, “I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man.”
Timberwolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell was asked about the matter before Wednesday’s game at New York and spoke thoughtfully at length about the subject.
“I know Rajon, I wouldn’t say we’re friends, but I know him,” Mitchell said. “I was shocked. I don’t think he’s that type of person. Sometimes this game is very emotional and when you’re playing in the heat of the moment, you let your tongue get the best of you. I’m sure he’s sorry, but there’s no place for it in our society. Forget our game, just no place for it in our society, and I think he understands from the statement he has said.”
With all that is said by players and coaches in frustration during sports events, Mitchell was asked if he expects change after Rondo’s actions and what has happened since. Last Friday, the NBA suspended Rondo for one game and Commissioner Adam Silver later told Yahoo Sports he didn’t make the suspension two or three games because he was concerned it would “out” Kennedy.
Kennedy did so himself two days later when he publicly announced he is gay.
“I think you always have to be conscious,” Mitchell said. “Society is changing. Things are different. Everybody lives life a little differently, and you just have to be respectful of that and just be respectful of people in general. It’s not about whether you agree with someone else’s life or not and how they live. It’s about being respectful. My mother and my dad taught me, I just try to treat everybody fairly and be respectful. I think Rajon will do the same thing, and hopefully not just him but everybody in society learns that it’s unacceptable to make comments like that.”
Rondo tweeted Monday: “My actions during the game were out of frustration and emotion, period! They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.”
He is the third NBA player to be fined and the first to be suspended for making anti-gay slurs. During the 2010-11 season, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was fined $100,000 and Chicago’s Joakim Noah was fined $50,000. Both men apologized.
Kennedy is in his 18th season as an NBA referee. He told Yahoo Sports on Sunday, “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.”
He is the second NBA referee to publicly come out as gay. Violet Palmer did so in 2014.
“I know Bill from all the years I played and coached, Bill’s a good man,” Mitchell said. “He didn’t deserve it. I know Rajon. I like him, but he just made a serious mistake and he’s paying for it and rightfully so. Let’s see how he does. Sometimes when you make mistakes like that publicly, it can have a profound change on your life and for the good. That’s what we’re hoping for because there’s no place for it. …
“Let’s see how he rebounds and conducts himself afterwards. That’s going to be a true test of how he goes forward from today.”