NEW YORK — Chris Paul made it clear: His problem with referee Lauren Holtkamp was with her call. He left it to others to say it wasn’t about her gender.
His criticism of the rookie official drew a rebuke from the referees union followed by strong backing from the female Executive Director of the NBA Players Association.
“Any suggestion that Chris Paul would ever conduct himself in a disrespectful manner towards women is utterly ridiculous, outrageous and patently false,” Michele Roberts said in a statement, noting Paul’s role in making her the first woman to head a North American major sports union last summer.
The Los Angeles Clippers guard criticized Holtkamp on Feb. 5 after a 105-94 loss at Cleveland, saying she might not be ready for the big leagues after six seasons in the NBA Development League.
Paul was asked about it three times Feb. 6 before the Clippers played in Toronto. “Like I said, last night was about a bad call,” Paul said. “That’s it.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers agreed, though he would have preferred that Paul had worded his comments differently.
“I didn’t like it, I didn’t like that part of it, but I don’t think he meant it in the way I think it’s being said. I just think he was upset at the technical,” Rivers said.
“I don’t think the technical was warranted either, to be honest. But that’s not a gender issue, that’s just an issue that you disagreed with the tech.”
Paul was called for a technical foul by Holtkamp in the third quarter. The Clippers were attempting to inbound quickly when Holtkamp stepped in. Paul questioned her and was slapped with the technical.
“The tech I got was ridiculous,” Paul said. “That’s terrible. There’s no way that can be a technical. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court. When we did that, she said, ‘Uh-uh.’ I said, ‘Why uh-uh?’ and she gave me a technical. That’s ridiculous. If that’s the case, this might not be for her.”
Lee Seham, General Counsel of the National Basketball Referees Association, said in a statement his group reviewed Holtkamp’s calls and “deems them fully justified.”
“Furthermore,” he added, “the NBRA deplores the personal and unprofessional comments made by Chris Paul. She belongs.”
Questioning a referee’s readiness is a common complaint the league hears about rookie officials. Paul likely will be fined for public criticism of an official but has the full support of the NBPA.
“Without hesitation, the Players Association stands firmly behind Chris, whose competitiveness may only be exceeded by the strength of his values and his convictions,” Roberts added.
Paul also was supported by Becky Hammon, the former WNBA star who was hired by the San Antonio Spurs last year as the first full-time female assistant coach of an NBA team.
“Chris Paul is a competitor & he had an opinion, I don’t think it had anything to do with the refs gender,” Hammon wrote on Twitter.
The 34-year-old Holtkamp worked the D-League’s championship series the last two years. A former player at Division II Drury University, she also officiated nine NBA regular-season games before her promotion to the full-time staff.
Violet Palmer is the league’s other female referee, having worked about 900 regular-season games during a career that’s in its 18th season.
By Brian Mahoney, AP Basketball Writer. AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland and freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report