Kings guard Rajon Rondo said Monday he did not intend to offend anyone with anti-gay slurs toward referee Bill Kennedy that led to his suspension without pay for Tuesday’s game against the Houston Rockets.
The NBA announced the suspension Friday, saying only that the punishment was for “directing a derogatory and offensive term towards a game official and not leaving the court in a timely manner upon his ejection” in a 114-97 loss to the Boston Celtics on Dec. 3 in Mexico City. Rondo was assessed two technical fouls and ejected by Kennedy with 6:30 left in the third quarter.
Kennedy revealed to Yahoo Sports on Sunday that he is gay. According to Yahoo, Kennedy and fellow referee Ben Taylor said in a report that was used as part of the NBA’s investigation that Rondo’s post-ejection tirade included anti-gay slurs.
“My actions during the game were out of frustration and emotion, period!” Rondo tweeted after declining to comment following Monday’s practice. “They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.”
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The first technical was called because Rondo protested a foul call against center DeMarcus Cousins. After the second technical, Rondo had to be kept away from Kennedy by Cousins before team security helped escort Rondo off the court. Rondo reportedly used the slurs after he was ejected.
“My feeling is I respect all sides,” Kings coach George Karl said. “Bill Kennedy is a good referee. ... I feel the league is a good leader (on) social issues, and discrimination against gays is something that cannot be tolerated, and I’m happy the league is strong in that case. But in the same sense, I have to prepare the team and support Rajon in this season in a positive way. It’s not an easy place to be.”
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac both condemned Rondo’s language.
“Rajon’s comment is not reflective of the culture of the Sacramento Kings organization or the world we want to live in,” Ranadive said in a statement. “He’s apologized, and has been suspended by the NBA. On behalf of the team, I apologize to Bill Kennedy for any harm this may have caused.”
Divac reached out to Kennedy to offer an apology on behalf of the organization, too.
“The NBA put sanctions on (Rondo), and we support it,” Divac said.
Divac said Rondo apologized to him, but Divac was unsure if Rondo intended to contact Kennedy.
“That’s a question for him,” Divac said.
Rondo is the first player to be suspended for using an anti-gay slur. At least three players – Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and former Kings guard Jason Williams – have been fined for similar slurs.
Kennedy is not the first openly gay referee. Violet Palmer announced she was gay last year before marrying longtime partner Tanya Stine. Golden State team president and COO Rick Welts is also openly gay. Former NBA player Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the league when he signed with Brooklyn after announcing in April 2013 that he was gay.
Rondo has “exceeded” Karl’s expectations after signing a one-year contract in July. Rondo is a four-time All-Star, but many questioned his talent after a rough stretch in Dallas last season. Rondo leads the NBA with 11 assists per game and also averages 12.6 points and 6.9 rebounds. He has a league-best four triple-doubles this season.
Divac said the incident was out of character for Rondo.
“He’s a very nice guy, hard-working guy, and I’m so glad I took the chance last summer to bring him here because he’s a different person than a lot of people (said),” Divac said.