The more "gay friendly" NBA has fined star player Kobe Bryant of the playoffs-bound Los Angeles Lakers $100,000 for what it calls "inexcusable" homophobic language used against a referee.
"The comment that I made, even though it was not meant as what it's perceived to be, is nonetheless wrong," Bryant said on ESPN radio.
Bryant uttered the anti-gay slur, apparently directed to referee Bennie Adams, after he called a technical foul on Bryant during the third quarter of a Tuesday night game against the San Antonio Spurs.
The incident was captured on camera.
The controversy comes at a time when the NBA was already planning a public service announcement campaign with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in order to present the league as being more "gay friendly."
The announcement is set to air during the NBA Finals and part of the GLSEN's "Think Before You Speak" campaign about anti-gay language.
Phoenix Suns player Grant Hill taped it the same day Bryant blasted the referee.
Facing the Heat
Bryant told ESPN radio he's appealing the fine, saying he was frustrated in the heat of a game.
But that's no reason to use such a slur, NBA officials said.
"While I'm fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement.
Some observers say Bryant's blunder might spark a healthy dialogue about whether such language is appropriate even for the locker room, let alone the open court.
"When it comes to homophobia, nothing surprises me," said ESPN's L.Z. Granderson, an openly gay sports writer.
"He finally apologized and that means he's doing some listening," Granderson said.
Sports blogger John Krolik said, "Kobe does have freedom of speech but freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences."
Bryant seems to realize that now.
"There's a lot of things that are being said that should not said," Bryant said on ESPN Radio.