Every sports fan knows that NBA players make great salaries, no matter what level they play at. Superstars can pull in tens of millions of dollars a year, but even bench or G-League players can make well over six figures. That can then go up the longer someone is in the league.
However, what many people don’t know is that referees make good salaries too. Though they don’t reach the same heights as basketball players, keeping the game in order is a big job that requires a lot of commitment, skill, and time.
Understanding how much refs make, as well as how their salaries work and where they come from, is an important part of understanding the inner workings of the NBA.
How Much Do NBA Referees Get Paid?
While reffing an NBA game is no easy task, the officials are compensated quite fairly for what they do. An entry-level ref, that is one in the first two years of their career, can earn as much as $150,000 a season.
That’s a good amount, and it only goes up from there. Once refs break into the third year of their career they can go up to the senior level.
If they do, their pay can range anywhere between $300,000 to more than $500,000. In fact, the average pay for senior officials is $500,000. There’s even room for bonuses if a ref works in the post-season.
Do NBA Refs Get Paid Per Game?
Now that we know how much refs make, it’s important to break down how that money gets delivered. The reason there’s such a big spread on refs pay is that, unlike other professions, they don’t get a set salary each year.
Rather, their income is based on the number of games they work during the season. A ref who only refs 70 games will make less than one that works 82. That number also goes up or down based on their experience, as mentioned above.
Rookie refs in their first two seasons make an average of $1,800 per game. Once they reach the senior level, they then make an average of $3,500 a game. However, some make a little bit less (around $2,500) and some make way more ($6,000 or beyond).
That’s a large spread, but even at the low end it’s a lot of money. Even at $2,500 a game, a referee working a full season makes over $200,000 a year.
In addition, they can also make $800 to $5,000 a game when reffing the playoffs. There are also assorted bonuses that can come from the total number of games, which can raise the annual income even more.
When Do NBA Refs Get Paid?
Unfortunately, the how and why of NBA ref salaries are kept in the dark. Even the above salaries are rough estimates. That’s because the league doesn’t release a ton of information on the officials.
As such, there’s no way to know exactly when NBA refs get paid. They obviously don’t make one lump sum at the end of the year, but it’s unlikely they get a check after each game too.
When looking at that, it’s likely they get sporadic payments throughout the year just like any other job.
Who is the Highest Paid NBA Referee?
When it comes to salary, most refs fall into the spread outlined above. There are a few, however, that manage to go above the pack thanks to extra games, experience, or general bonuses.
James Capers, Sean Corbin, Tony Brothers, Rodney Mott, Scott Foster, Ken Mauer, Pat Fraher, Tom Washington, and Marc Davis all make $550,000 or more each season. That puts them at the top of the top when it comes to income.
Right below them are Eric Lewis, Michael Smith, Leon Wood, Tony Brown, David Gunthrie, John Goble, Leroy Richardson, Scott Wall, Mark Ayotte, and Derek Richardson. All of them make right around $500,000 or more. Not the most, but still an incredible amount for what they do.
It is these refs that you’ll often see working important playoffs or Finals games as well.
NBA Referee Salary Compared to Other Sport Leagues
While NBA referees pull in a lot of money compared to the other top sports leagues, all of the officials in all major organizations make a good living.
NHL referees pull in $275,000 on average, while NFL officials come in at $205,000. Senior NBA officials are next in line. Then, all three of those leagues fall short of the MLB umpires, who take home a staggering $450,000 a year.
That may seem like a huge jump, but the shift makes sense when you consider how much MLB umpires work compared to other referees. In addition, they have a much bigger impact on the game and need to oversee every single pitch. It’s harder on the body too.
Taking the impact and amount of games into consideration, it’s no wonder that NFL refs make the least out or ever league and baseball umpires are the top earners. Still, the average that NBA refs can pull in is a high ceiling with a lot of room to grow.
NBA Referee Job Requirements
There are many basketball referees in the world, but only a few make it all the way to the top. That is because, as with any other coveted position, it’s not easy to reach the top. There are quite a few requirements you need to become an NBA referee, and they are all essential.
First, referees need a high school diploma or GED. Once that’s done, you need to slowly work your way up the ladder. For most, that means starting out as a youth basketball referee, then registering as a high school referee through a public school’s athletic organization.
After spending a lot of time working in the lower leagues, you need to get into the NCAA through the official registration. Of course, there’s no way to know if you’ll be picked. If you are, you can then work in college for some time before attempting to pass the G-League tryouts.
If you make it through and get to the G-League, you then need to put in work and eventually get all the way up to the NBA.
This is the exact path you’ll find for basketball players, and it’s important to note that, like players, referees need to show their worth at every level.
A couple of the above steps can be skipped in certain circumstances, but if you wish to work in the U.S., going up from league to league is the best way to make it happen. Not only will you make the right contacts, but you get a ton of experience working at each level.
How Many Referees are in the NBA?
It’s important to note that, while it’s easy to see the above path to the top, making it all the way is never easy. Currently, there are only 75 referees employed in the NBA. That’s roughly a little more than two per team.
On top of that, there are nine on-call staff officials ready to go should anything happen. Getting referees around to different games takes a lot of coordination, and nobody knows when an emergency will arise.
That number can also shift from year to year. Even so, you have to put in a lot of work to be one of the 75. If you have no interest in being a ref, it still helps to know how much those 75 people need to move around.
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It doesn’t matter if you’re officiating hockey, basketball, baseball, or football, being a referee is hard work. NBA refs have to work across 70 plus games a year, and that journey requires a lot of travel, discipline, and time on their feet.
They also need to deal with angry players, upset fans, as well as constantly shifting rules. However, they are fairly compensated for their time and effort. Only a few can make it to the top, and the big checks show why. Being a ref isn’t easy, but it definitely pays off.