MIAMI (AP) — Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 on Monday for directing an anti-gay slur at a fan during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, and vowed to learn from the incident.
The NBA released its decision hours after speaking with Noah, saying the fine was "for using a derogatory and offensive term from the bench."
The fine is only half of what Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant was assessed for shouting the same slur toward a referee last month, and the league said the discrepancy was because the sanction against Bryant was based on both what he said — and who he said it to.
"Kobe's fine included discipline for verbal abuse of a game official," NBA spokesman Mark Broussard said.
Noah and NBA officials met Monday morning. 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.
That price turned out to be 1.6 percent of his roughly $3.1 million salary this season. Noah agreed to an extension last year, worth about $60 million through the 2015-16 season.
Meanwhile, two major advocacy groups quickly called upon the league to both sanction Noah and help further educate players on the topic.
"The fan said something that was disrespectful towards me," Noah said, about five hours before the fine was announced. "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.
Bryant was fined $100,000 last month, and just 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. Taj Gibson said the man repeatedly directed verbal abuse toward the Bulls, and other players insisted that was true.
"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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