The life of a referee in the NBA

We know that, no matter what sport we are talking about, referees have been and always will be hated by the fans, especially, to a degree that can make the refs think that once in the past they actually did something wrong to them or their family, ironically speaking. No matter how many good, crucial calls they will get in a game, the players and the fans will always remember the one that they didn’t get right, and that is what makes a referee life kind of hard when they are at work. Lately, in the NBA, there were all kinds of disagreements between the referees and the players, and unfortunately for the game of basketball, in many cases the players were right, as many errors were made, errors that influenced the flow of the game and ultimately, the final score. This type of problems occurred since the beginning of sports in history, and, unless the refs will get replaced by robots, which is very unlikely, there will always be such controversies.

More often than not, the hard work that the men with the whistle put in is overlooked. They have to train their physical condition in the summer, because they have to keep up on running up and down the court with the best athletes of the world. They have to train their court vision abilities, in order to see a play correctly since the start until the end of it, and if we take in consideration the fast-paced game that is played in today’s NBA, that’s not quite an easy thing to do. Sure, they got the technology as their ally, but you can’t go and review every call that one team or another thinks that is wrong, so they have to take decisions in a matter of milliseconds. In the last years, the league has implemented an officiating program, in the name of transparency, which consists in NBA Replay Center, Replay Video Archive, Last Two Minute Reports, NBA Video Rulebook Website, Referee Information in Play-by-Play and Making the Call, a video series in which they pick some interesting decisions that were made during a game and explain them.

Another aspect that is overlooked on the lifestyle of referees, is traveling, as every game is an away game for them, there is no such thing as “playing at home”, so given the fact that there are 82 games in a season for a total of 30 teams, that is a lot of time spent on the road. Let’s take a look at how many games some of the oldest refs have under their belt.


Ron Garretson                          1,904                                          Ron Garretson                   238

Ken Mauer                                1,876                                           Mike Callahan                   210

Tom Washington                     1,569                                           Ken Mauer                         208

Mike Callahan                          1,567                                           Scott Foster                        176

Bill Spooner                              1,506                                           Tom Washington              165


MOST SEASONS OFFICIATED                                        MOST NBA FINALS GAMES

Ken Mauer                                32                                                Mike Callahan                    20

Ron Garretson                          31                                                Ken Mauer                          19

Bill Spooner                              29                                                Scott Foster                        18

Mike Callahan                          28                                                Ron Garretson                   11

Tom Washington                     27                                                Marc Davis                         10

                                                                                         (taken from

NBA referees start their career with high school and college games and then they can advance to the NBA, depending on their abilities. As of the money that they make, it depends on the experience that they have in the league, an entry level referee can have up to $150,000 per-season, while one who is doing this for a long time can have $550,000. As for the playoffs, they are being paid for every game, and every round has an increase sum of money. For example, for an NBA Finals game, a referee is making around $24,790. The idea of them getting paid per-game can lead to incentives that sometimes the games can be rigged in order to… make the refs more money. Because of that, NBA should standardize the pay check for the playoffs, so there won’t be any speculations that some of the contests are rigged.

Since we have touched this subject, we need to discuss a little about the Tim Donaghy case, a former referee who plead guilty in a case of betting on games that he would call. Earlier this year in an interview for ESPN, Kobe Bryant had to answer some rapid fire question, and one of the questions was “Do you think that the 2002 Western Conference Finals was rigged?”. The answer was shocking, especially coming out of Bryant’s mouth, as he first questioned what was the name of the ref, so when he found out that Tim Donaghy was in charge, he didn’t hesitate to say that he definitely had money on it, and that says a whole lot about the fairness of some matches played throughout history and about the fact that calls can be gone wrong intentionally. It has gotten to a point that you start to question yourself if there are still referees who are doing that, and if you take a deeper look into how things went in some games during these past years, maybe, just maybe, you can build a case against them.


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