Popovich is known to be a man of few words, but when it comes to people he respects, he makes those words count.
NBA referee Bill Kennedy chats with since-retired Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs on March 7, 2016. (Getty Images)
Last December, after being ejected from a game by referee Bill Kennedy, point guard Rajon Rondo yelled a gay slur at the official prior to being removed from the floor. Rondo was hit with a one-game suspension following the outburst, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
Almost immediately after the incident, Kennedy revealed he was a gay man who hadn’t made his orientation public. Rondo didn’t know that at the time of the slur, but amid the headlines, Kennedy saw the opportunity to acknowledge the truth, and he took it. He released this statement to Yahoo Sports to come out publicly:
"I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man. 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."
Kennedy left that matter there, not offering any more comments on the issue. Yet, leading up to his next game, the official was filled with anxiety he hadn’t experienced since his first games as a pro ref. He hadn’t spoken further to the press, but he knew he had far more attention on him than a typical ref does in light of recent events.
One of the teams playing that night was the San Antonio Spurs, and head coach Gregg Popovich approached Kennedy to offer his support and admiration to the now-openly-gay ref.
Kennedy relayed his comments in this ESPN profile of the ref. He recalls Popovich telling him, “You have more guts, you have more balls than anybody I know. You have more courage than anybody I know. Now, go out there and kick ass.”
Kennedy followed up that comment with details very characteristic of Pop, saying, “Then he walked away. He didn't say a word to me for the rest of the game."
Popovich has a reputation for being among the grumpiest personalities in all of sports, but he’s also known to speak honestly and lovingly to people he respects and cares for. It’s clear, after his words have been made public, how he views Bill Kennedy.