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NBA Referee Salary: Complete Guide (2023)

TL;DR

Full-time NBA referees make between $200k to $500k per season depending on experience and number of games worked.

NBA refs have a tough job. Think about it:

Fans yell at you. Coaches yell at you. Players yell at you. Even the owners yell at you.

You get all the blame, and none of the glory.

But, you’re still expected to keep your cool, and make hundreds of split second decisions in high pressure, hostile environments.

On top of that, you have a gruelling travel schedule, and need to stay in shape all the time. So, why do it?

Well, for one, NBA refs get paid pretty damn well.

In this post, I take a detailed look at the NBA referee salary, including:

  • Average salary range
  • Payment per game
  • Playoff bonuses
  • Highest paid refs
  • How to become an NBA ref
  • and more…

Let’s get started!

How much do NBA referees make?

NBA refs Tony brothers and Marc Davis smiling
Tony Brothers and Marc Davis smile everytime they see their paycheck

An NBA referee’s salary ranges from around $200k to over $500k per season.

Like most jobs, NBA referees are paid based on their experience and performance. New refs start at around $200,000, while the most senior refs make over $500,000.

Referees are paid per game, and get bonuses if selected to work in the playoffs (more info below).

Unlike player salaries, there is no official public information on NBA referee salaries, so these numbers are estimated from various sources.

One source is the Hustle’s interview with young NBA ref Suyash Mehta. The interview states that NBA refs start around $200k, and senior refs top out at around $525k.

Some other sources, including NBC Sports, estimate that current NBA referees salaries range from around $180k to $550k.

Let’s see how referee salaries have risen over the years:

👉 Note: NBA referees can make even more by betting on their own games like Tim Donaghy , or by claiming fake travel expenses (just kidding 🤣)

NBA referee salaries over the years

Dick Bavetta cashed a lot of checks in his 30+ years as an NBA ref.

Similar to player salaries, refs have seen a big rise in pay over the past couple of decades.

In 1983, NBA refs made between $18,000 and $80,000 per season.

In 1994, it was estimated that refs made between $72,000 and $177,000 per season.

In 2009, NBA referee salaries started at around $91,000.

Again, these are all rough estimates, but should be moderately accurate.

Part of the reason for the increase is that the referees formed a union called the National Basketball Referee Association (NBRA), which has given them better bargaining power.

Their most recent collective bargaining agreement was made just last season, and will run until the 2028-2029 season.

How much do referees make per game?

Tom Washington (left) has worked the most games of any current NBA ref (over 1700).

NBA referees work on average 40-60 games per season, depending on experience (not including playoffs)

This number was calculated from the official NBA referee profiles, which shows the number of games and seasons for each referee.

More senior officials like Marc Davis and Bill Kennedy work a bit more games on average (60+), while some newer officials work far less (20-30 games).

There are also “non-staff” officials (i.e. not yet promoted to full time NBA ref), who work just 10-15 games per season.

Based on these numbers and the above salary estimates, newer officials earn around $4,000 to $6,000 per game. More senior officials earn somewhere around $8,000 – $10,000 per game.

The NBRA probably has an official pay scale per game based on experience, but it has not been released to the public.

How Much Do NBA Referees Make In The Playoffs?

“Uh oh, we got that call wrong too”

NBA referees get paid extra if they are chosen to work the playoffs.

In an interview with Heavy, NBA Senior Referee VP Monty McCutchen states that referees get a bonus of $25,000+ for working the playoffs:

There are bonuses for each postseason round worked. For example, there’s an extra $25,000 for being chosen for the first round, whether for one game or more.

There are even bigger bonuses for getting selected to work the 2nd round, Conference Finals, and NBA Finals.

But, who decides which refs work the playoffs and the Finals?

Referees are evaluated and graded throughout the season by a team of independent reviewers. The referees with the highest grades are given a chance to work the playoffs. In the 2023 playoffs, 36 officials (out of 74) were selected to work.

These referees are then graded on their performance in the playoffs, and the top performers are chosen to work the finals.

In 2023, there were 12 officials selected for the Finals:

Marc Davis Ed Malloy
Scott Foster Kevin Scott
John Goble Josh Tiven
David Guthrie James Williams
Bill Kennedy Zach Zarba

Highest Paid NBA Referees (2022-2023)

“I make more money than you” – Scott Foster to other NBA refs

The highest paid NBA referees are the most senior referees. These refs are all assumed to have salaries of over $500,000.

The 10 referees with the most experience (regular season) are:

  • Tom Washington (31 seasons)
  • Michael Smith (29 seasons)
  • Tony Brothers (28 seasons)
  • Scott Foster (28 seasons)
  • Bennie Adams (27 seasons)
  • James Capers (27 seasons)
  • Sean Corbin (27 seasons)
  • Scott Wall (27 seasons)
  • Leroy Richardson (26 seasons)
  • Leon Wood (26 seasons)

There are also plenty of other referees like Zach Zarba, Ed Malloy, and Bill Kennedy who have 20+ seasons of experience.

Another way to determine which refs are paid the most is to see which ones have worked the most playoffs & finals games.

Most Playoff Games Reffed

  • Scott Foster (226)
  • Tom Washington (181)
  • James Capers (178)
  • Tony Brothers (174)
  • Marc Davis (174)
  • Zach Zarba (133)
  • Ed Malloy (128)
  • Bill Kennedy (127)
  • John Goble (113)
  • Sean Corbin (90)
  • David Guthrie (85)

Most Finals Games Reffed

  • Scott Foster (23)
  • Marc Davis (18)
  • Tony Brothers (15)
  • James Capers (14)
  • Zach Zarba (11)
  • Ed Malloy (10)
  • David Guthrie (8)
  • John Goble (7)
  • Eric Lewis (6)
  • Bill Kennedy (5)
  • Josh Tiven (5)

From looking at these lists, I think we can assume that guys like Scott Foster, Marc Davis, Tony Brothers, James Capers, Zach Zarba, Ed Malloy, and Bill Kennedy are the highest overall paid NBA refs (experience + playoffs/finals bonuses).

NBA Referee vs. NBA Player Salaries

“I make WAY more than you, bro.” – Westbrook to Scott Foster, probably.

While NBA referees make a really good salary, it is still nothing compared to average NBA player salaries.

In 2022-2023, the average NBA salary was approximately $8,000,000. This is about 16 times the highest referee salary!

Compared to G League players though, average NBA refs actually make more. The minimum (and most common) G League salary in 2022-2023 was just $40,500. Only the top prospects (e.g. Scoot Henderson), and two-way contract players (e.g. Mac McClung) can make around $500,000, which is about equal to the top paid NBA referees.

How much do G League referees get paid?

Just like players, referees must always work their way up from the G League.

Before making it to the NBA, refs must first work in the G League. How much do they get paid?

Again, there is no official information on this, so we must estimate.

According to this article, NCAA March Madness referees get paid about $1,000 to $2,000 per game (depending on round).

We can assume G League refs get paid around the same, or possibly a bit more. There are only 50 games in a G League season though. Assuming a referee works around 40 games, this means a G League refs salary is somewhere around $40,000 – $80,000 per season.

How to become an NBA referee?

To get yelled at as an NBA ref, you first need to get yelled at as a high school ref.

So, you want to make big bucks and become an NBA ref?

Well, it’s not an easy task. The process is actually pretty similar to becoming an NBA player. Statistically, it might even be harder to become an NBA ref than an NBA player (since there are only about 75 positions).

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Start Officiating Somewhere (high school, intramural, amateur leagues, etc.)
  2. Get Scouted
  3. NBA Referee Camp Invite / Tryouts
  4. Work in the G League
  5. Work in the NBA / WNBA 💰

In the 2022-2023 NBA season, there were only 74 full time officials, and 8 “non-staff” officials.

👉 For a full breakdown, check out this article on How to Become an NBA Referee

NBA Referee FAQ

Do NBA Referees Pay For Travel?

No, NBA referees do not have to pay for their own travel.

They are on the road constantly, even more so than players.

🤫 Fun fact: In 1994, 12 NBA referees were involved in a scandal for pocketing excess travel expenses and not paying taxes. Many were found guilty, including long time refs George Tolliver and Ken Mauer.

How many female refs are in the NBA?

Violet Palmer was the first female ref in the NBA

In the 2022-2023 season, there were 8 full-time female refs in the NBA:

  • Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling
  • Natalie Sago
  • Jenna Schroede
  • Dannica Mosher
  • Cheryl Flores
  • Simone Jelks
  • Ashley Moyer-Gleich
  • Danielle Scott

What sport has the highest paid referees?

Of the 3 major sport leagues in the United States, it seems that the NBA has the highest paid referees.

According to SportingNews.com, NFL referees make an average salary of $205,000. They are also only considered “part-time” employees, so lack many benefits compared to NBA refs. MLB umpires make between $150,000 and $450,000.

How many NBA referees are there?

In 2022-2023, there were 74 full time NBA officials, and 8 non-staff officials. (Source)

NBA referee roster

The full 2022-2023 referee roster can be found here.

Has an NBA player ever become a ref?

Leon Wood (left) played in the NBA for 6 seasons before becoming a ref

There have been three former NBA players that became refs: Leon Wood, Haywoode Workman, and Bernie Fryer.

Currently, only Leon Wood is still working as a referee. Here is some info on the three:

Leon Wood was drafted 10th overall in 1984 (i.e. the Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan draft). He played 274 games over six seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Bullets, New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Atlanta Hawks and Sacramento Kings.

Haywoode Workman was drafted 49th overall in 1989 by the Atlanta Hawks. His career spanned 359 games over 9 seasons with 5 different teams (Atlanta Hawks, Washington Bullets, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Toronto Raptors).

Bernie Fryer only played three seasons in the NBA / ABA from 1973 – 1975. He worked as an NBA referee from 1978 – 2007, and reffed over 1800 games. He later became the Vice President and Director of Officials, and is currently and advisor to the NBA.

Summary

NBA refs have a gruelling, thankless job. But, they are paid nicely for their work with salaries ranging from around $200k to over $500k.

Let me know in the comments:

Would you want to be an NBA ref for that salary?

What do you think of the current NBA referees?

Let me know your thoughts below!

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Larry Lee

Larry Lee

Larry is a basketball addict, and the founder of Hoop Dojo. He started Hoop Dojo to share his love of the game and help the next generation reach their full potential.