When Mexican Americans Kassandra Garcia and Natalia Dorantes made NFL history in 2021 it was a major win for Latina representation in football and now another Latina made sports history but this time in basketball. Blanca Burns debuted as a referee for the NBA on Dec. 27, 2021, during a match between the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs and went down in sports history as the first Mexican-born woman to do so. But despite already breaking down barriers, Burns’s ambition goes beyond the courts — it’s about making a difference for Latinas like her. Born in Torreón, in the northern Mexico state of Coahuila, her family moved when she was still a child to El Paso, Texas, and then later to Oklahoma. Even with the changes in her life, basketball remained a constant passion for Burns.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I always had a basketball in my hand,” Burns told ESPN.
Burns played basketball at every level in her schools which then took her to college-level basketball at Mid-America Christian University in Oklahoma City as a point guard. It was there that she was first introduced to refereeing games when she decided to referee pre-school games at a YMCA to make ends meet. Burns’s focus then shifted from playing basketball to officiating games as a referee.
Burns has already risen through the ranks and referred a high-profile game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Memphis Grizzlies only two nights after her debut in December. This basketball season, Burns was listed as one of nine part-time officials who also have responsibilities in the National Basketball Association’s official minor league basketball organization which is more commonly known as the G League. According to the NBA, 42 percent of G League referees are women.
Not short of goals, Burns’s next one is to become a full-time referee in the NBA. Her lifelong dream, however, is to represent her home country by officiating at the Olympic Games. The NBA is beginning to expand into Mexico and Latin America so her goals may be closer than ever to being fulfilled. But her lifelong mission is to continue paving a path for young girls, especially from Latin America, according to ESPN.
“My only goal was to make it a reality for other females — who are also minorities — who are going to come behind me,” said Burns in an interview with a local news station in El Paso, Texas KTSM, “One day, I hope they see me out there and say, ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’”