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How to Become NBA Referee – Official Ref Requirements/Salary

Last Updated May 13, 2024 Last Updated October 18, 2023 by Edward Pullen

Officiating in the NBA is a highly respected and well-paid profession. No matter what you think about the NBA players, being an official referee in this league is a lucrative position. An NBA referee enforces the rules of basketball among professional teams. If you are an aspiring basketball ref and want to know how to become NBA referee, here we’ll take a look at the official requirements and salary information for NBA referees.

But wait, let me tell you something; becoming an NBA referee is not as easy as one might think. It takes years of experience officiating at all levels of basketball, from grade school to the pros. It’s a ref’s responsibility to ensure the game runs smoothly. The pressure of professional-level responsibilities can leave you exhausted, headache ridden and get you to make strange decisions. That’s why an NBA referee earns a good salary!

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How to Become NBA Referee

How to Become an NBA Referee – Steps to Becoming Official Basketball Ref

There are basically two ways to become an NBA referee;

  1. Work your way up through the ranks of basketball officiating like any other ref. Whether it’s high school, college or international basketball you will have to work your way through the ranks and prove your ability every step of the way.
  2. Make a big jump from college basketball ref to NBA referee without going through the lower ranks. This will take a special relationship with one of the NBA league officials (if you are lucky enough)!

The first way is the traditional route for those who want to become an official basketball referee and some people prefer it. It’s like climbing any other career ladder, except that you start at the bottom and work your way up. No matter what your basketball officiating background is, you will have to start as a rookie. It’s important to remember that the NBA official requirements for becoming a referee are the same as any other league.


Requirements for Becoming NBA Ref

Here is a list of things you need to know about how to become an NBA referee.

  • You must be at least 21 years of age.
  • You must submit your application and send in an application fee of $75.
  • You must submit your application with photocopies of your officiating experience and referee evaluations.
  • You must have a high school diploma or GED to become an NBA official.
  • Conduct a skills test demonstrating your knowledge of the rules of basketball. This is a timed test with 90 questions, so practice makes perfect.


Steps to Become NBA Referee

To become an NBA referee, you can create a profile on the NBA officials’ website. The NBA has a scouting team that watches referees play at games in different basketball leagues across America and beyond. Also, to be a referee, you could start by learning about positions by governing rules at local parks and schools. Here are the steps that one has to take if wishing to pursue a career as an NBA Referee;


1. Get Education

If you wish to become an NBA official, it is required that you have completed high school. But for those who want to make officiating a career, you should consider taking up a college degree. This will help to further your knowledge and give you a better understanding of officiating at all levels of the basketball game.


2. Learn and Practice Basketball Signals and Calls

basketball signalThere are several kinds of signals that an NBA referee must learn when officiating games. Through years of experience, officials have come up with specific hand signals for basketball calls. For example, if a player gets fouled while shooting the ball, an official must signal that with both hands held out, palms down. If a player is fouled and doesn’t shoot the ball, an official must make the “chop-chop” motion.

The two most effective ways to learn basketball signals are by watching games and studying basketball rules magazines. One can also take the help of the internet to learn all the calls needed during a basketball game.


3. Consider Getting Experience

After you have gotten your education, it is suggested that players pursue their officiating career by getting the right experience. You can get your officiating career going by refereeing games at local schools and parks. This will help you gain a better understanding of basketball rules and positioning.


4. Register to Work as a High School Basketball Coach

One important thing for refereeing in high school is being an active coach. If you are not coaching, then it will be hard to get the refereeing career going, so it’s highly recommended that you register as a coach. This will be beneficial to you when picking up games at high schools.


5. Attend NBA G League Referee Tryouts

It’s highly recommended that you focus on the NBA G League to get your career going. You can register for a tryout and if you are selected, you will be able to officiate at lower levels of the game. Perform your best to get noticed in a positive way.


6. Attend NCAA Officiating Exam

If you are selected for the G League, you can gain experience and improve your skills to get onto the NBA. One of the most popular ways of becoming an NBA referee is through officiating at NCAA games. This will help you learn the complications of officiating in the biggest basketball league in America.


7. Submit Your NBA Official Application

Once you have been officiating youth leagues for a while, it’s time to submit your application to the NBA. You can submit your official application online and wait for a response from the league. Keep in mind that this process is highly competitive, so you may have to wait for a while.

Aspiring NBA referees must demonstrate their knowledge of basketball rules by passing a skills test. The official website has sample questions, but the general test contains 90 multiple-choice questions. You are allowed two hours to answer all of them.


8. Pass the Officiating Assessment Test

Once your application is accepted by the NBA, you can take up their Officiating Assessment Test. If you are successful, you will have the opportunity to officiate in preseason games for NBA teams. That will be your first to become an NBA referee.


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Skills for NBA Refs

In order to be successful as an NBA referee, a ref will need to have both the skills: the ability to efficiently handle a game as well as the interpersonal skills to build relationships with players and other officials. Some of the necessary skills are;

nba referee skills

Highly-developed interpersonal skills: NBA refs must be able to interact effectively with officials, coaches and players of all different levels of experience.

Critical thinking skills: Refs need to have a strong understanding of the rules of basketball and use good judgment when making calls.

Empathy: Refs must be able to put themselves in the shoes of players and other team officials. They should always act with empathy when they make a call.

Time management skills: NBA referees must be able to manage their time effectively when on the court and in games. They need to make accurate calls within a short space of time for the benefit of players and fans.

Patience:  Referees need to have patience and self-control to avoid unnecessary conflict with players. They also need to be able to remain calm when coaches or fans are giving them abuse.

Decision-making skills: Refs must have the confidence to make quick, accurate decisions on any issues or conflicts that occur during a game. They need the ability to stay calm under pressure, and be able to remain focused on their job throughout a game.

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How Much an NBA Referee Make a Year? Expected Salary

The NBA referee salary starts from $150,000 a year and goes up to as much as $550,000 depending on the experience and level of expertise. This is a very good salary for a referee considering that you only need to work around 20 days to earn this much.

NBA referee salary also includes travel expenses and free hotel accommodation during games. You will be required to take part in promotional work, but this is only a small part of your overall job.


What does an NBA ref do?

Here are some responsibilities and duties of an NBA ref that he/she ensures to perform during the game;

nba referee job

  • They enforce the rules of basketball among professional teams, including penalties for violations.
  • They are in charge of matches or games involving NBA teams.
  • NBA referees wear a full NBA official uniform during games.
  • The duty of the referee is to make sure that both teams are following all the rules of basketball and maintain order during a game. This means ensuring that there is no physical or verbal abuse by players.
  • They will also make sure that the coaches do not use profanity when addressing referees or players.



Wrapping Up

We have seen the roadmap on how to become NBA referee and what you need to do in order to officiate in the league. This is a very lucrative profession since NBA referees earn a lot of money for officiating in only 20 days. If you are interested, you can take up the Officiating Assessment Test and start your journey as an NBA referee.



Frequently Asked Questions: (FAQs)

How much does an NBA referee make a year?

The NBA referee salary starts from $150,000 a year and goes up to $550,000 depending on the experience and level of expertise.


Do NBA refs get paid per game?

No, NBA refs get paid for each day they officiate. 20 working days per year is the average number of game-days an NBA ref officiates in.


How long does it take for an NBA referee to become one?

It usually takes about 5-6 years of officiating in the lower leagues for an NBA ref to become one.


Who is the youngest NBA referee?

The youngest NBA referee is Sean Corbin who was aged 25 years 11 months and 5 days when he officiated his first game in the NBA.


What is the highest salary an NBA referee can make?

NBA referees have great earning potential since it is one of the best paying professions in the world. The highest an NBA ref can make is about $550,000 a year.


Is being an NBA ref hard?

Yes, it is a tough and stressful occupation since every decision is final. NBA referees get more abuse than praise during games. They also get a lot of flak from fans and the media if they make a wrong call.