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Gregg Popovich had a heartfelt message for Bill Kennedy before his 1st game as an openly gay referee

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic, Game 2 Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

The entire story of Bill Kennedy, as told here by Kevin Arnovitz in ESPN The Magazine, is a great one. He’s the first openly gay referee in the NBA, one of the most respected officials in the entire league, and a man who is fulfilling a dream of being an NBA referee that he has been working towards since he was a kid.

Kennedy had never gone public with his sexuality until last December, when Rajon Rondo yelled a gay slur at him after Kennedy had ejected him. Rondo claimed he didn’t know Kennedy was gay, and received a one-game suspension. But Kennedy still came out with a simple statement saying he was a proud gay man.

In the following game, Kennedy told Arnovitz about how he felt nervous in the hours leading up to it for the first time in years. He didn’t want to talk to the press about it — he just wanted to referee a game, just like he had done his entire career. It happened that one of the teams included the San Antonio Spurs, and this Gregg Popovich anecdote is everything you would expect from the beloved coach.

As the lights went down for player introductions, Popovich sidled up beside him -- telling Kennedy that he chose to walk over in the dark because he didn't want to make a scene that everyone could witness. "He said, quote, unquote, 'You have more guts, you have more balls than anybody I know,'" Kennedy says. "'You have more courage than anybody I know. Now, go out there and kick ass.' Then he walked away. He didn't say a word to me for the rest of the game."

You can read the rest of the piece right here, and I highly recommend it.