It was caught on camera on TNT's national telecast, prompting an announcer to say, "You might wanna take the cameras off of him right now, for the children watching from home."
Commissioner David Stern strongly condemned Bryant's words in a statement: "Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society."
The Human Rights Campaign agreed: "Hopefully Mr. Bryant will recognize that as a person with such fame and influence, the use of such language not only offends millions of LGBT people around the world, but also perpetuates a culture of discrimination and hate that all of us, most notably Mr. Bryant, should be working to eradicate," its statement read.
"What I said last night should not be taken literally," Bryant said in his apology. "My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone."
We actually believe that he was hurling a random insult rather than attacking the referee's sexuality with his outburst. But it goes without saying that that doesn't excuse his language. Perception is just as important as intent when it comes to slurs of any kind (and, to state the obvious, we're pretty sure he wouldn't be too thrilled if someone were to choose the n-word as the put-down of the day and use it against him on the court).
Read more at ESPN.
In other news: J.Lo Named World's Most Beautiful Woman.