How to Become an NBA Referee? (8 Steps at Least)

The NBA is among the world’s entertaining enterprises and premier sports. NBA players deliver excitement and joy to thousands of basketball fans across the globe. Much of the success depends on referees.

NBA referees safeguard the game’s integrity. These professionals ensure that ONLY team dynamics, players’ skills, dedication, and passion determine a game’s outcome. Your job as a referee is to make sure players play fairly and safely.

Of the many decisions you’ll make, one of the most important is determining when a foul or violation occurs. Part of your job also entails assessing penalties, stopping play for reviews when necessary, and signaling the beginning and end games.

In summary, the roles of an NBA referee are:

  • Enforce rules
  • Maintain order
  • Keep the game moving (avoid unnecessary stoppages)
  • Keep time

Do you want to become an NBA referee? Have the burning desire to pursue an exciting career in the NBA as a referee? In this primer, you’ll learn everything necessary to help you attain professional-level officiating experience.

How to Become an NBA Referee?

Becoming an NBA referee is a piecemeal process. Proper training and experience are necessary. Moreover, you need to have intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to be successful.

There’s more to becoming a referee in the NBA than just having a whistle and uniform. Here’s what you need to do to become an NBA referee;

  • Know the rules
  • Get some training
  • Become certified
  • Have networks
  • Gain experience
  • Further your education
  • Register with the NCAA
  • Apply with the NBA

Know the Rules

Learning the rules is the first step towards becoming a National Basketball Association referee. When you know the rules inside-out, you serve as an expert and deliver appropriate calls confidently and quickly.

Do the following to develop a concrete understanding of the game’s rules:

  • Buy a book – It is important to note that certain regions or jurisdictions have specific books touching rules that referees need to have at games. Others follow NBA or NCAA rules.
  • Practice makes perfect, right? – Practice hand signals to perfect the art of executing them while on the court.
  • In addition to reading rule books, watch as many NBA games as possible to observe how referees conduct and carry themselves during games. Doing this gives you an idea of how to control a game.

The more you understand NBAs rules and regulations, the easier it’ll be for you to officiate a game fairly and with authority.

Get Some Training

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Image Source: @officialnbarefs

Thorough training offers you a solid understanding of how to officiate an NBA game. Different basketball schools, colleges, and organizations conduct referee training programs that equip you with everything you need to expound the rules, show professional sportsmanship and deal with players/coaches.

Training, such as those that the NBRA provides, also shows you how to maintain excellence during a game. Both field and classroom learning constitute these training programs.

Upon competition of these training sessions, you’re attributed with accreditations for your qualification.

Become Certified

As a prospective NBA referee, basketball referee qualifications isn’t something you should overlook. Where are you planning to officiate? Depending on your region, it is necessary to apply for certification to local officiating authorities. Your prospective level of officiating can also determine whether you’ll need to be certified.

Fortunately, applying for certification isn’t a tough job. All you need to do is fill application forms online. Part of what authorities check is your academic background.

Paying for certification might also be necessary in some cases.

Note: A vital aspect of being a member of sports organizations that offer certifications is to ensure you attend meetings. Meetings allow you to deliberate on rule changes and other parts of officiating.

Have Networks

Just like in any other profession, having connections is essential as an NBA referee. Make contacts with as many recreational basketball organizations as possible. Fill in as many referee job application forms as possible.

In addition to this, it is prudent to be involved with your local association as well. Ask colleagues and friends serious questions regarding the game.

Doing this acts as proof of your commitment and seriousness to the game. Creating positive impressions works in your favor later on.

If you feel stuck and do not have options, you can attend an NBA game as a spectator and ask officials about the relevant person to contact.

Like we mentioned above, attending organizations’ meetings is crucial as you can also network with fellow officials. Moreover, you have a chance to help others with any issues they might have.

Gain Experience

Since you are just a beginner, you must gather extensive experience from somewhere in your journey to the big leagues. Many options are available.

The best place to start is to communicate with recreational organizations, local parks, and community centers. Inquire about recreational basketball leagues that happen around the region or area you reside in.

To better your career, work closely with different basketball organizations within your locality.

Some referees even start their careers by officiating in kid’s basketball games. Officiating at lower levels gives you the chance to practice simple game procedures. Additionally, children or the young folks (read teens) tend to play their games at a slower pace than adults. This gives you ample time to not only settle in but also learn everything.

Utilize the experience of working with youth programs as a springboard for officiating games at professional/upper-level sports.

Still on gaining experience, you need to be mentored by a veteran official before you become established. Of great importance to note is that two umpires and one lead referee. During the initial stages of your career, you’ll serve as an umpire. There’s plenty you can learn from a lead referee about officiating and the game in general.

Besides your duties as an umpire, pay close attention to how a lead referee handles the game. Ask as many questions as you can to enhance your prowess to officiate.

Further Your Education

Learning is a continuous process for NBA referees. It never stops. Ensure you’re always learning different aspects of the sport.

Rules are constantly changing. Be adept with the new ones. One way to ensure you’re always learning is by attending training sessions or programs to advance your officiating skills.

In addition to that, you need to acquire more credentials to transition from being a non-professional official to an official one.

Register With the NCAA

Registering with the NCAA is usually at the tail end of your journey of becoming an NBA referee. After spending ample time officiating at the lower levels (read high school), it is time to consider officiating at a higher level (read college).

The NCCA has all the information you need to register and schedule an officiating exam required for NCAA officials. One of the requirements to become an NCAA referee is to take part in an officiating clinic. In the clinic, you learn different elements of being a successful college basketball referee.

Once you register and schedule an exam, you’ll take it at the planned location, date, and time. Like officiating at the lower scholastic sports level, you need to pass a background check to officiate NCCA games.

Apply With the NBA

The last step towards becoming an NBA referee is to apply at the NBA and WNBA camps to be considered for the NBA. Having started officiating at the lower levels, you’ve now gained adequate experience to officiate at the highest level – the NBA or WNBA.

Head to the NBA officials website ( and apply for an NBA referee position. If accepted, you’ll start your career by officiating games with lower viewer bases, such as WNBA games and camps.

Ultimately, you’ll work your way into the higher-profile games.

Other Important Things To Do Become A Successful NBA Referee

There’s a host of other things that you need to do to become a successful NBA referee. They include:

  • Be physically fit
  • Be mentally fit
  • Proper nutrition
  • Have the necessary equipment

Be Physically Fit

Just like with other sports, you need to be physically fit to officiate an NBA game. This is because while on the court, you’ll not get many opportunities to rest. You have to be quick in your movements on the court based on where players are.

Due to the constant running on the court, your physical ability can take a hit. Do you know that, on average, an NBA referee runs for around 1 – 3.5 miles? Therefore, physical capability plays a crucial role in both officials and players.

Another common thing not just in basketball but also in other sports is hydration. Unfortunately, many people often overlook hydration, which is an essential aspect of performance and preparation.

The thing is, the human body is made mainly of fluids, roughly 60%. This means that you need to be adequately hydrated to perform at your best as an NBA referee.

Dehydration can drastically affect your performance. To be on the safe side, make sure you hydrate before, during, and after a game to reduce fluid loss.

Tips: After 39 years of officiating in the NBA, Bavetta officially retired on August 19, 2014 having officiated 2,635 consecutive regular season games, amazing.

Be Mentally Fit

Mental health is essential to an NBA referee. On top of taking positions quickly, a referee needs total concentration while officiating a game. Players, coaches, and fans can talk trash to you.

In such a scenario, you need to focus on the job at hand and always keep calm. It would help if you also were mentally sound to co-operate with you so that the other two assistants can co-operate.

Proper Nutrition

Your body is akin to a racecar – serve it with the appropriate fuel, that is, quality fluids, healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and enjoy a top-notch performance.

An excellently-designed nutrition plan can go miles to boost performance not only in training but also officiating through the improvement of decision-making, mental performance, and mood.

Proper nutrition boosts energy levels and offers more efficient recovery methods coupled with lower soreness levels. This goes miles to prolong your profession as a capable official.

Proper nutrition for a referee entails feeding your body with energy-boosting nutrients. Feed on carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, grains, bread, cereals, and pasta. It is prudent to provide a rich-carbohydrate meal 1 – 2 hours before arriving at the court to enjoy impressive bouts of energy.

An NBA referee also needs to take plenty of proteins for the repair and development of muscles. Excellent sources of proteins include nuts, dairy products, fish, poultry, and meats. Other remarkable sources of protein include protein bars and shakes.

While proteins aren’t the primary energy source, they come in handy in small amounts during strenuous game conditions or workouts.

Fats are equally crucial to the nutrition of an NBA referee. They are a continuous fuel supply during extensive activities at low-to-moderate intensity.

Have the Necessary Equipment

Some of the necessary things you need as an NBA referee include:

  1. Black socks
  2. Whistle
  3. Black beltless slacks
  4. Athletic black, polished shoes
  5. Stripped V-neck shirt
  6. Lanyard

Also Read:
6 Best Basketball Referee Whistles in 2021
10 Best Basketball Referee Shoes in 2021

Final Words

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Image Source: @nba_refs_

Becoming an NBA referee is a fulfilling way to be involved in a sport you’re passionate about. To officiate the game at a high level, in addition to vast experience, you need extensive training. It would be best if you did everything we have highlighted in this primer to be a successful NBA referee on top of it all.

Also Read: How Much Do NBA Referees Make?

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