Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah apologized again Monday for directing an anti-gay slur at a fan during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, and was bracing for punishment — likely a large fine — from the NBA.
Meanwhile, two major advocacy groups called upon the league to sanction Noah.
Noah and NBA officials met Monday morning. The league had no immediate comment, but Noah said he emerged from that talk prepared to "pay the price" for what happened when he returned to the bench with two fouls midway through the first quarter of Sunday night's game against the Miami Heat.
"The fan said something that was disrespectful towards me," Noah said. "And I went back at him. Got it on camera. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm not like that. I'm an open-minded guy. I said the wrong thing and I'm going to pay the consequences — deal with the consequences — like a man. I don't want to be a distraction to the team right now."
Television cameras captured Noah saying an expletive, followed by the slur. Noah said he did not realize the gravity of the situation until he was questioned by reporters after the game Sunday, adding that he meant "no disrespect" to anyone.
Last month, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was fined $100,000 for directing the same slur toward a referee. And last week, Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts revealed he was gay, a rare acknowledgement for someone holding a prominent position in men's sports.
"We know what business we are in," Heat forward LeBron James said Monday. "Emotions get played. ... I don't think it was right what he said. But emotions do get said over the course of the game. We know there's going to be microphones. We know there's going to be cameras around. You just have to be cautious about what you say and just try to control your emotions as much as possible."
The Heat won Sunday's game 96-85, taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Tuesday night in Miami.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD, said it reached out to the NBA and the Bulls on Monday "to discuss next steps," and called upon the league to reiterate to its players that anti-gay words should not be tolerated in the game.
"Last month the NBA sent an important message about how such slurs fuel a climate of intolerance and are unacceptable," GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios said in a statement. "These anti-gay remarks, coming so soon after, demonstrate how much needs to be done."
GLAAD said it has started a partnership with Bryant and the Lakers following the April incident in Los Angeles. Also Monday, the Human Rights Campaign called Noah's use of the slur "just plain unacceptable."
"At a time when the NBA and a growing number of pro-athletes are publicly standing up for equality, it's too bad Mr. Noah worked against their efforts last night," HRC President Joe Solmonese said. "That said, we're pleased he quickly realized the error of his ways and apologized."
Some of Noah's teammates stood up for him Monday, saying that the fan went too far in whatever comments were directed toward the Bulls' bench.
"It wasn't just one time or two times," said Bulls forward Luol Deng, who declined to say what comments the fan may have made. "He just kept going and it became really annoying. He just lost his temper."
Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said he was not aware of exactly what took place in the bench area, but noted it happens somewhat regularly.
"That's a part of the game," Boozer said. "Fans have the right to say what they want to say after they buy their tickets. Unfortunately sometimes, for us, we just have to sit there and take it. Unfortunately, that's part of sports."
Noah repeated often Monday that he was apologetic for the incident. He said he would "learn from my mistakes," and acknowledged that being frustrated over picking up his second foul did not excuse his words.
"I'll remember," Noah said. "I'll remember it for a long time."
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