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How to Become an NBA Referee

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The National Basketball Association is a billion dollar enterprise, with 30 teams, average game attendance of 17,348 fans and television viewership of millions in 2013. Only the most elite players, coaches and referees have the opportunity to play and work in the league. It’s a difficult goal to reach; only 63 referees appeared on the roster for the 2014-15 season. The NBA recommends a career path for prospective referees to consider.

High School

Officiate high school games. Each state has a state athletic association that issues officiating permits to referees after requirements are met. For example, the Ohio State Athletic Association requires prospective referees to take an OHSAA officiating class, followed by an exam. Special training for awareness and prevention of athlete concussions is mandatory and annual renewal is required. State or local athletic associations oversee hiring, referee rosters and game assignments. High school officiating allows referees to learn the rules of the game and gain experience.

National College Athletic Association

Referees with some high school officiating experience move on to register with the National College Athletic Association. Prospective officials must take the NCAA Men’s or Women’s Basketball Officiating Exam. Most new referees begin by officiating in Divisions 2 and 3, and move up to Division One as they become more experienced. Referees hone their officiating skills and become accustomed to large crowds and increasing pressure as they proceed through the college divisions.

NBA Development League

The NBA develops players, coaches, front-office staff and officials in its D-League. Though it’s not officially required for NBA referees to start in the D-League, since 2002 NBA has hired exclusively from the D-League roster. To be considered for the league, referees must register with the NBA and be invited to tryouts. Those who make the first cut move on to a training camp and final selection. The Development League has teams in 18 cities and plays 50 regular-season games per year.

NBA Career

The duties of an NBA referee begin before the game. The referees are responsible to carefully check the balls, court and scoring equipment prior to the game. They observe players during warm-up and ensure that players meet standards regarding dress, clothing and jewelry. Referees review the Active List and meet with scoring officials and team captains. During the game, referees observe the official rules of the game and make calls. As representatives of the NBA, referees must be knowledgeable, fair and honest.


Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.

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