How to Become an NBA Referee

If you’re like me and watch a lot of basketball, you probably feel like you know the game pretty well. You may even be able to anticipate many of the plays before they even occur. This may also include the calls that are made by the referees, which includes scoffing at a ref who makes a bad call or misses it altogether. You probably feel like you could step in and officiate the game better than they do and it makes you wonder how they became refs in the first place.

It’s easy to make all the calls from the comfort of your favorite chair though. There are no players, coaches or crowds to harass you or judge your opinion of how the play went down. You are also comfortable and haven’t been running up and down the court for two-plus hours, and you have “the best seats in the house” with all the right camera angles. There is absolutely no pressure of getting a critical call right when the game is on the line either.

This may be an unpopular opinion alert, but professional referees have a really tough job. It sometimes may not seem like it, but they are very experienced and complete extensive training in order to be on the court calling the game at a high level. So, how does one become a referee in the National Basketball Association?

Do You Want to Be an NBA Referee?

If you are serious about becoming a professional referee there are some things you should probably consider first. Becoming a professional basketball ref is an achievable goal, but it will take time and lots of hard work. So, before you get started on that journey take a look at the pros and cons of the job and make sure that it is a career that you really want to pursue.


If you love the game of basketball but are unable to continue playing at higher levels, this is a way to stay involved with the sport and an opportunity for a career in the game you love. Not everyone can become an NBA player but becoming a referee is attainable by almost anyone willing to put in the work.

You will have an up-close and personal viewpoint of the game you love. Aside from the players, no one is closer to the action than the referees, not even the coaching staff. You will also have the chance to form relationships with some of the best talent in the world and earn their respect on the court as one of their equals. You get all of these benefits and you get paid too. What a deal!

The game of basketball is fast-paced and in order to keep up with the players while exhibiting pinpoint judgment and call accuracy, you will need to be in the best shape of your life. This is a huge benefit compared to other jobs where you may sit behind a desk for long periods of time.

Speaking of pay, you will earn a great living. Referees in professional leagues make anywhere from $150,000 to $550,000 a year depending on their experience and ability.


There are some downsides to being a ref too. This can be a stressful job and you are responsible for making split-second decisions that will affect the outcome of games and sometimes an entire season. Players, coaches, and fans will be critical of your performance almost nightly. You will need to have thick skin for all the criticism and harassment that comes with the job.

You will also do a lot of traveling (which could be a pro for some). You’ll be on the road for the majority of the NBA season, and many nights will be spent away from friends and family.

What You Will Need

Yes, you will need a whistle and the proper referee’s uniform, but that will be provided to you. There are some other prerequisite requirements that will come in handy should you pursue this as a career. Let’s take a look at what some of these are.

  • Love for basketball
  • Basketball knowledge
  • Thick skin and short memory (for those controversial calls)
  • Patience
  • Good physical shape
  • Good vision
  • Quick decision-making skills
  • Good observational skills

Steps to Becoming a Referee in the NBA

Like most careers, there are multiple paths that can be taken to achieve a job as a professional referee. The path will differ depending on each individual, but most careers do have some specific steps you can take to get there. Below is a good general roadmap on the road to becoming an official in the National Basketball Association.

1. Get an education

My first suggestion for any career is always to get a basic education. Whether it is high school, trade school, college or any other. You can’t overlook a good education and neither will employers. Any type of diploma or degree is always a benefit when pursuing a career.

2. Learn the game

You will need to know the rules of the game inside and out, but don’t stop there. Learn everything you can about basketball. Becoming a student of the game can only help you earn respect within NBA circles if you can converse with them and have a solid grasp of all aspects of the game.

3. Physical training

You will need to be in top physical shape. Like the players, you will need to be able to get up and down the court for 48 minutes but unlike the players, you won’t have a sub to come in for you when you get tired.

4. Mental training

Don’t overlook the mental aspect of this job. Train your brain to be able to make accurate observations and quick decisions. You will also need to find ways to keep calm under immense pressure and criticism. Discover coping methods such as meditation or relaxation that work for you to help process those stressful situations.

5. Learn and practice the calls

You can learn the calls and hand signals from books, YouTube videos, or by observing games. Master them so that you feel confident when the time comes. Try mimicking referees during games and make calls in real-time to see how you do.

You might also look into taking a class or training session if there are any available in your area. This can ensure that you get the basics down and can go a long way toward jumpstarting your career.

6. Get Started

Start small. Even if it is in a youth league, you need to start somewhere. Do what you can to work your way up to higher-level leagues. Be sure to make as many contacts as you can. Networking can help you to find those jobs in high school and even college ball.

No matter what level of games you are working at, always try and be at the top of your game. There are scouts out there and they are not all just for players. The NBA has scouts looking for referees as well. Use these lower-level leagues to build your confidence and gain experience.

7. Get certified

As you are learning and working your way up, get any certifications you can. These will enhance your resume and show that you have the required skills. They also may be required to apply for jobs in some leagues.

8. Register with the NBA

Once you feel you are ready, get registered on the NBA website. From here you can learn how to get your foot in the door and find out where you can participate in camps and other professional training. They also share information about where they will be scouting, orientation, how to apply and how to get started in the G League and NBA summer leagues.

9. Always continue learning

No matter how much you think you know, there is always more you can learn. The game is constantly changing and rules do change so you must keep up on the game and not let it pass you by.

If you would like to learn more about what it is like to become an NBA referee and what you can do to prepare for this career take a look at this video called “What It Takes To Be An NBA Referee”.

Final Words

Making it in the big leagues as a referee isn’t an impossible goal. There is a pretty clear path to success as we have outlined above. It will take some time and hard work, but if you love basketball, possess the qualities we have covered, then you too can become an official in professional basketball.

Have you ever officiated a game at any level? We’d love to hear from you, so please leave your comments.

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