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The Average Salary of an NBA Referee

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If you love the game of basketball, are an experienced referee and enjoy traveling, becoming an NBA referee may be an attractive career choice. The job of a referee is to ensure that the game is fair for both teams. Instant replay and interpretation by fans, players and coaches add an element of contention to the job. It takes years of training and networking with the right people to break into the business. You’ll want to begin your journey as a student of the game and take advantage of every opportunity to learn about the job, in order to be selected for this coveted position. Once you make it to the pros, the NBA referee salary can be as much as $500,000 per year.

Job Description

An NBA referee salary is earned by spending 25 days on the road for eight months during the year. If you’re lucky enough to be selected for a coveted play-off job, it could be longer. Job duties include reviewing the rules with the players, introducing the team, communicating with coaches and overseeing the game itself. The work environment is more than just the basketball court. An NBA referee spends a lot of time with the case book and rule book to ensure they are experts on game regulations. Referees review game film to learn about how they can improve their skills. They also attend training camps and referee clinics to stay on top of the job requirements. Remaining in peak physical condition is an on-going job duty. Referees must be physically fit to stay with the fast-paced nature of the game and to avoid injury. In the off-season, many NBA referees teach referee camps and summer clinics for people aspiring to join the professional ranks. The ability to make split-second decisions, a tough skin and a keen awareness of the rules of the game is critical for this position.

Education Requirements

The road to becoming an NBA referee begins at a young age. If this job is your career goal, you’ll want to start by serving as a referee for youth sports. You can take officiating classes in your local community to become certified at the youth level. As you progress, you will move on to the high school level by becoming certified by a program sanctioned by the National Federation of State High School Association. The next step is to earn your credentials to referee at the collegiate level. Depending upon the level, you’ll go through a program governed by the National Junior College Athletic Association, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics or the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Even at the collegiate level, the competition is fierce. After years of experience in an advanced position, you’ll be ready to vie for a position in the NBA. Candidates are recruited by NBA scouts that view live events at the upper levels of play. Approximately 100 candidates are invited to participate in elite referee camps. If you make the cut, you’ll be invited to participate in the summer league or the G League. Seasoned referees provide guidance and training to prospective referees in these leagues. Summer League participants are held for further developmental training. The final recommendation for hire into the NBA or WNBA comes from participation in the G League.


An NBA referee works part of the time on a home court and the rest in basketball arenas across the nation. You can expect to work eight months per year. Games can be on weekdays and weekends.

Years of Experience and Salary

An NBA referee salary varies by assignment and years of experience. If you’re assigned to the WNBA, you can expect to earn $425 per game or an annual salary of $180,000. New referees for the NBA begin at $600 per game or $250,000 per year. Seasoned or professional referees earn $3,500 per game or $500,000 annually. You can become a professional referee, after three to five years of employment. Compensation packages include travel stipends, insurance and retirement benefits. If you’re selected to referee a playoff or final game, you can earn between $800 and $5000 per game, depending upon your rank.

Job Growth Trend

In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected an eight percent increase in job growth for umpires, referees and other sports officials. Turnover in the NBA is lower, given the large salaries and competitive nature of the job.


Dr. Kelly Meier has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and has 30+ years of experience in higher education. She is the author and co-author of 15 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education with Kinect Education Group. She is the co-owner of a small business and a regular contributor for The Equity Network. She has numerous publications published by Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.

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