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NBA's new refs: Can they see?

Will they call traveling on Hakeem Olajuwon and slap the "T" on obnoxious Charles Barkley?

Those are the key questions awaiting the debut of the National Basketball Association's first women officials, Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer. Nobody on or off the court should care about their gender, merely their competence. Their previous experience, including professional preseason games, indicates the pair should hold their own in the banging, bruising NBA.The two will suit up this season not only as the first women referees, but as the first hired to officiate regular-season games in a men's professional sport. They are among five new people added to the league's 58-member officiating stable. Another seven candidates didn't make the grade.

Kantner was supervisor of officials in the Women's National Basketball Association and officiated four women's NCAA championship games. Palmer was an official in the WNBA and also refereed women's college games.

If there is any concern, it is that WNBA play was deemed excessively rough last year during its inaugural season. If the two let much pushing and shoving go there, they will have to rethink their approach to the quicker, more physical men's game, which can get out of hand in a hurry.

But their adjustments won't be much different than those of other officials moving into the NBA from other leagues, all of whom will have their eyesight called into question at times. The men's professional game is a league of its own, with unwritten rules about star status and Olajuwon's big steps.

Maybe while breaking new ground they can tighten things up a bit - and call traveling and a few more fouls on Michael Jordan.