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Roles & Responsibilities of a Basketball Referee

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In the United States, basketball is played at all levels from youth leagues to high school, to college and professional leagues. The National Basketball Association is the top professional basketball league in the U.S., and the NBA is where the best players in the world come to showcase their skills. Given the popularity of the game, and that most basketball leagues play games as often as two to three times a week, there is a need for basketball referees. Most NBA referees begin as high school or rec league referees, then move to the college level for some years before moving up to pro hoops.

General Roles and Responsibilities

At high school level and above, three basketball officials are required in a game. All officials are called referees in the NBA, and one is designated as a crew chief. The crew chief has the final say in all calls. In college basketball, the referee is the senior official and the regular officials are called umpires, but a referee may not overrule an umpire's call. Referees wear a uniform consisting of a black-and-white striped shirt and black pants. Their job is to enforce all rules and maintain order on the basketball court.

Pregame Duties

At least one referee should be present a half-hour before tip-off to make preparations with table personnel and observe for rules infractions. Referees are also responsible for inspecting and approving all players’ uniforms and all equipment; confirming the official timer will notify each team three minutes before the start of the game and the second half; confirming the starting lineups in the official scorebook; and notifying team captains to prepare to play.

Enforcing the Rules

The primary responsibility of a basketball referee is to enforce the rules of the game. The referee begins the game by tossing the ball for a tip-off between one player from each team. Referees are responsible for calling violations if players travel, double-dribble, commit a foul or any other violation of the rules. They are also responsible for granting timeouts and allowing substitutions. Referees also confirm three-point shots for the official scorers.

Specific Responsibilities

Specific responsibilities of basketball referees include calling fouls and administering and enforcing changes of possessions or free throws. The authority of referees includes calling unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, player or coach ejections, or even calling a forfeit of the game in certain circumstances. Referees are also responsible for maintaining order during stoppages in play, and can assess technical fouls or eject players for rules infractions during stoppages.


Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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