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Violet Palmer didn't set out to be a trailblazer for women in men's sports, but as the only female referee in the NBA today, that's exactly what she's become.
"I think for all women, we can do anything we want; we just have to have the opportunity to now show that we can do the job." she told CNN's Michaela Pereira.
Palmer was given her opportunity to officiate basketball games on a national level in 1997 and recalls what it was like facing adversity and discrimination, saying "Every negative thing you can think of, they've thrown it at me."
" ‘You're not going to make it.’ ‘Why are you here? Go back to WNBA.’ ‘Players and coaches are not going to accept you.’ ‘Your guys that you work with, they're not going to accept you.’ "
They did accept her, and with 17 seasons under her belt, her refereeing abilities are never in question, nor is her ability to stand up to the towering basketball players whose fate she helps decide.
"I think guys respect hard work."
But she admits having to keep the rookies in line.
"Every now and then, I might have a little young fella come out, and I say, ‘Oh wait, young fella, I've got a lot more years of service than you. Check yourself.’ ”
Palmer also knows that taking heat from fans comes with the territory.
"I used to wear my hair long, and they'd go, ‘Oh, your ponytail is too tight,’ or ‘You need glasses.’ I still know that being on the court when I'm doing my job, it's not personal."
Before becoming an NBA official, Palmer refereed high school and college-level games, racking up nine years of collegiate officiating experience, as well as five NCAA Final Fours and two NCAA Championship games. Then the NBA began to take notice.
In 1997, she was recruited by the NBA to try out for a position in the league.
"You give me a shot ... you know how you crack the door? I just kicked it right open."
Palmer was one of two female recruits that year, shattering the glass ceiling for female referees wanting a shot in the NBA.
Born on July 20, 1964, Palmer always loved sports, even as a young child. The only girl on her little league team, she showed that even back then, she wasn't afraid to break the mold.
"I want to go out and play with my brother and play baseball in the street and just do it all."
It seems Palmer did do it all. The Compton, California, native played basketball for her school's teams in junior high, high school, and college. Her passion earned her a full athletic scholarship to California Polytechnic State University, where she won two NCAA Women's Championships.
She believes it's that love of the game that contributed to her success in the NBA. Palmer remains the only female referee among 62 of the best referees in the world, a chosen few given the opportunity to officiate at the highest level.
She tells Pereira what it was like officiating the first game.
"I was scared out of my wits. It was so much going on, so much excitement. But for me, as soon as I walked out on that floor and we tossed the ball, now it was time to go to work."
Season after season, Palmer maintains a grueling schedule, keeping up with the demands of her career. She stays mentally and physically fit despite being on the road an average of 22 days a month.
Although the work is challenging, she is optimistic about the prospect of more women joining her ranks.
"The bar is really high, but I can honestly say we have two women right now that are in our training program, and they are awesome."