NBA refs have one of the toughest jobs in sports.
They are heavily scrutinized and criticized for every call, yet rarely receive any praise when things go well. They are on the road constantly, and work an unrelenting schedule during the season.
The plus side is that they are paid quite well, and get to be around the awesome game of basketball all the time!
In this post, we take a look at the 6 basic steps on how to become an NBA referee. These steps are provided directly from the NBA officials website:
- Start officiating somewhere / anywhere
- Get scouted
- NBA Referee Camp Invite & Tryouts
- Work as a G League Referee
- Work as “Non-staff” NBA referee
- Become a full time NBA referee
If you are interested in learning more details about what it takes to become an NBA ref, then read on:
1. Start Officiating Somewhere
The first step to becoming an NBA official is simply to start reffing somewhere!
You just need to get some experience as a referee. This could be as a high school / middle school ref, junior college, or even at intramural / rec leagues.
Current NBA ref Suyash Mehta started working as an intramural referee at his university making a measly $10/hr. He eventually got certified in his state (Maryland), so that he could begin reffing high school games.
Every state has its own basketball officials association (e.g. Washington State’s PNBOA, California’s CBOA, etc.). Each of these associations should have some sort of training / certification program setup for those interested in becoming a referee.
2. Get Scouted
Similar to players, referees also get scouted.
If you keep improving your skills as a referee, you will eventually be selected to start working higher profile games like high school state championships, etc.
At these games, there may be some NBA referee scouts looking for potential candidates.
The NBA is looking for referees that demonstrate “exceptional accuracy, integrity, positioning, and stamina.”
Even if there are no NBA scouts, there may be scouts from NCAA, or other professional leagues. The NBA also scouts refs from other leagues, and international games like FIBA competitions or the Olympics.
3. Camp Invites & Tryouts
If you are lucky / good enough to be noticed by some NBA scouts, you will be invited to the NBA referee’s “grass roots camp” with 100+ other candidates.
This is just the first step in the tryouts.
From the grass roots camp, about 40 referees will then be selected to join the “mid-level camp”.
From the mid-level camp, about 20 referees will be selected to the “elite camp”.
Those that are not selected will still remain on a watchlist for tryouts next time around.
4. G League
From the elite camp, 10 or so officials will be hired to work in the NBA G League.
G League refs will also work in the NBA Summer League and possibly the WNBA.
Typically, you will need to work in the G League for 3-5 years before having a chance for promotion to the NBA.
5. “Non-staff” NBA referee
After a few years of experience in the G League, you may get your chance to work in the NBA!
You will first start off as a “non-staff” NBA official.
This means you get to work pre-season games, and around 10 to 20 regular season games. “Non-staff” NBA officials also typically work WNBA games.
You will be evaluated during this time to decide whether or not you can become a full-time NBA official. The NBA actually has a dedicated team/system that collects data on all referees which can be used to evaluate their performance.
In the 2022-2023 season, there were eight non-staff NBA officials.
5. Full-time NBA referee
If you are good enough, you may finally be promoted to become a “full-time NBA staff official”. 🎉
Full-time NBA refs typically work around 40+ games per regular season, with senior officials working much more. Salaries for full-time NBA refs range from around $200k to over $500k.
The top performing officials during the regular season are also selected to work the playoffs. Referees that are selected to work the playoffs and/or NBA Finals also receive a very nice salary bonus.
There were a total of 74 full time NBA referees last season (2022-2023).
Becoming an NBA referee is not an easy task.
The process is actually very similar to becoming an NBA player. You need to start from high school / amateur levels, and slowly work your way up to the pros.
The entire process probably takes at least seven years (if you’re lucky).
Statistically, it might actually be harder to become an NBA ref than an NBA player (since there are only about 75 referee positions vs 450+ players).
Now it’s your turn:
What do you think about becoming an NBA official?
Would you want to work as an NBA ref and get yelled at by superstars like LeBron James, or cursed out by Draymond Green? 😂
Let me know in the comments below!