Blanca Burns bursts open NBA doors as first Mexican

In a historic first, the NBA has signed its first player of Mexican descent. She is now part of an excitement that’s been building for years in anticipation of this momentous occasion.

10:42 a.m. Eastern

  • Mexico’s Eric Gomez is a writer.

Blanca Burns made her NBA debut earlier this season, officiating a game between the Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 27. She found herself on the receiving end of multiple harsh complaints from famed Spurs coach Gregg Popovich before the night was finished.

Burns had plenty of experience dealing with even more frightening nitpickers: parents of middle school athletes, so that potentially terrifying situation was mitigated.

Burns told ESPN, “They’re quite tough and they don’t hold back.” “It benefited me in the NBA to put myself in those tough circumstances at the lesser levels.”

Burns, the first Mexican-born female NBA referee, obviously wants to go down in history as a great official. She also aspires to officiate in the Olympic Games, allowing her to realize a lifetime ambition of representing Mexico on a global stage. Her greatest legacy, though, she says, is to be a pioneer who can inspire the next generation and, ideally, bring more Latin American women into the fold.

Burns’ passion for the game began in her hometown of Torreón, in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. It only became stronger when her family relocated to El Paso, Texas, and subsequently Oklahoma.

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“I’ve always had a basketball in my hand since I was a small child,” Burns remarked. “In school, I played the game at every level.”

Her ability led her to Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City, where she was a point guard for two NAIA seasons. Later, she started working games with toddlers at her local YMCA in Oklahoma City as a means to make ends meet throughout her college years. Burns would typically work four games a day to make an even hundred bucks.

Burns’ attention changed from playing to officiating as she progressed through the ranks as a referee. She’s been balancing NCAA obligations with regular G League officiating responsibilities since 2018, and this season she got her first NBA assignment.

Burns has already had high-profile assignments involving some of the league’s top names in her first few games. Burns was part of the group calling the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies two nights after her debut in San Antonio. Burns was not beyond appreciating the occasion, even if she did so inwardly, despite the fact that referees are intended to remain stoic.

“Seeing LeBron [James] and Ja [Morant] there and being on the floor with them — it’s something I’ll never forget,” Burns added. “At the same time, you’re aware that you’re there to do a task, so you keep your emotions under control.”

Burns’ next ambition is to work as a regular NBA referee.


Heat at Celtics, 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 30 At 10 p.m., the Suns will face the Warriors.

Nuggets at Lakers, 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 3 Mavs at Bucks, 1 p.m. (ABC) (ABC)

All timings are in Eastern Standard Time.

“That would undoubtedly be the ideal situation. When the Capitanes arrived, I immediately informed my family in Mexico City. They’re ready to go to games after COVID. That would be fantastic “According to Burns.

Meanwhile, Burns is committed to putting herself out there as much as she can to guarantee that the next basketball-crazed little girl may follow a route to the top echelons of pro basketball — even if it means traveling the back roads.

“I try to go to summer camps and reach out to high school students and tell them that this is something that women can accomplish,” Burns said.

“I need to keep exposing myself so that others think, ‘Oh my my, if she can do it, so can I.’”