I've been doing a bunch of research into this stuff (not as much as I can do, so I'll keep working on it), and here are some off-topic questions that may be of interest:

How are NBA referees hired?

Let's take a look at some answers from the NBA Referees' website:

Q.  What do I have to do to become a NBA referee?
A.  In a recent interview with Referee Magazine, Joe Borgia, the NBA official responsible for recruiting and hiring referees for the NBA, the WNBA, and the NBA's Developmental League, described how the NBA goes about hiring professional basketball officials:

"I, along with our management team, watch a lot of officials. We go to camps to identify possible candidates. We go to college tournaments with the logic that the best officials in each conference are working those tournaments. I think last year I attended 30 games in nine days within six states. That was only me, we had many others out there watching on behalf of the NBA. I simply am trying to identify one or two officials who might have future potential within our league. We also have NBA-sponsored camps in which we invite candidates who we have seen work to get a look at them more closely. At that time, we can decide whether that official would be a good fit for our D-League. From this time forward, any official that works in the NBA or WNBA will first work in the D-League."

Q.  I know that the NBDL is the official developmental league for the NBA. Is the CBA still considered an official developmental league for the NBA? In addition, are referees who aspire to go into the NBA still sent to the CBA? It appears to me that the route to the NBA is going through the NBDL or CBA and then the WNBA before a referee goes to the NBA. Is this observation accurate?

A.  In the past, officials would filter to the NBA through the WNBA and the college circuit, but these days the sift is coming primarily through the NBA's Developmental League (NBADL), and secondarily through the college route.

Conclusion?  Getting into the NBA has an official probably requires an "in" of some sort.   There are examples of referees who have family members in the officiating field, either with the NBA or in other sports; also, as mentioned in the comments, Joey Crawford, Tim Donaghy and two other NBA officials all attended the same high school in Pennsylvania.  How odd that they all ended up as NBA referees.  Either that high school has a special program for training refs, or the alumni connection carries weight. 

It's not unusual for networking to play a big part in getting jobs - people hire people who are recommended by fellow employees.  Also worth noting: The Marathon Man added a good point in our discussion of this topic; he knows a referee in the ACC.  It's a cushy gig - he doesn't have to travel as much (the furthest he goes from home is Florida), as it's all local.  It's better for family-oriented people.  We might think that a NBA ref job is super appealing, but it's not.  NCAA Div 1 refs get paid really well (Big East refs I know do well), don't have as much travel, and have a shorter season (with less stress).  It's not a bad gig, and only really motivated refs (or those with big egos) would even want to move on to the NBA.

How much do refs get paid?

This one is difficult.  There is very little info about this - over the last couple of days I've read estimates from $100,000-$250,000, and other estimates have been higher (the highest I've heard is $400,000).   One of the reasons it is probably hard to figure out is because refs have other sources of income besides the games.  The job seems to be full time (as opposed to NFL refs, which are classified as part time and some refs have other jobs).  There are workshops and conference which these refs hold; they are probably getting some coin for that.  There are appearances, lectures, etc.  Some referees get into the memorabilia industry.   Freebies count as income.   Bottom line:  they are making six figures on average.  They are all living comfortable lifestyles - almost every single referee I've read about has a nice house in the suburbs that is worth a good amount.  I don't think refereeing is a poor paying job... if anything, it's akin to a doctor or a lawyer.

"NFL officials earned the least amount of money compared with other major North American sports referees. A National Basketball Association referee, on average, currently boasts a salary of $180,000 (B199,000) - that is more than quadruple the wages of an NFL referee."

That was from a 2001 article

"The bottom line is referees don’t make enough money either. NBA refs roughly earn between $100,000 and $300,000 a year"

That was from CNBC today.  By the way, the author doesn't make it clear why it isn't enough money, or how much is enough.  How much should the NBA pay it's referees?  There are 60 NBA referees; at $200,000 average per year, that is $12 million dollars the NBA is spending on refs, not counting benefits... which tend to be around 60% of salary & benefits in most organizations, but could be less in the NBA because who knows what type of benefits the NBA has.  Do they have a 401K?  Dental and medical?  Don't know.  But I'm going to safely assume that the NBA is spending at least $15 million on referees.

How many fouls do NBA refs call? 

As we saw from the racial bias study earlier this season, the NBA does not track fouls called by individuals, but by crew.  So here's some data:

There were 45.4 fouls per game (based on 22.7 per team average last season).

In the playoffs it rose to 46 fouls per game, based on this Bodog article.  That article is worth noting because it also gets into disputable refereeing and free throw discrepencies; it's too bad for Bodog that it wasn't Ken Mauer who was the gambler, for then they could pat themselves on the back instead of Bill Simmons:

The performance of referees Joe DeRosa, Ken Mauer and Steve Javie over the final 12 minutes on Monday left even the most milquetoast Jazz fans red in the face. Conspiracy?

San Antonio enjoyed a 25-2 free throw disparity in the fourth quarter, scoring 19 of their 28 points in the period from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, the Jazz were whistled for 11 fouls, four technicals and two ejections.

Of course, they realize that the conspiracy talk is just unhappy fans, and give the reasons why the game wouldn't be "fixed":

While the Spurs have been benefactors of several dubious decisions this postseason, the idea that David Stern is pulling strings on another San Antonio finals appearance is a tough sell.

Not much is gained from a vanilla, ratings-killer like the Spurs advancing to the dance. The problem is far more inherent, and nothing new. NBA officiating stinks.

Then they get into the reasons why the Spurs get so many calls - Suns fans and Bill Simmons, please take note:

They’ve got a well-schooled assemblage of call contesters; one can imagine Tim Duncan leading team exercises in bug-eyed looks of disbelief, or Manu Ginobili practicing his turned-up-palms-who-me? routine in the mirror prior to game time.

For as good as they are at complaining about fouls, the Spurs are even more adept at drawing them. San Antonio is the only team in the playoffs to boast three players in the top ten free throws attempts, an amazing stat when you consider six of their games came against Phoenix, a team notorious for not taking fouls.

Duncan (117) trails only LeBron James (134) while Ginobili has upped his regular season average of 4.9 to 5.6 attempts per playoff game.

San Antonio’s South American and European influence does play a part in this, as five of the 15 players on the Spurs’ playoff roster were born outside the United States. The likes of Ginobili, Tony Parker and Fabricio Oberto cut their teeth playing in European leagues that accentuate bumps and simulate physical contact – often times where there is none.

There's your fix, Suns fans.  Sorry, still sucks, but at acknowledge that it's probably more likely that your team lost because the Spurs are better actors than your team, which has only one really flapper - Steve Nash.  Add some more Euros, and maybe you'll have a chance of getting to the Finals next season. 

Finally, where does Tim Donaghy rank among referees in calls?

Foxsports is all over this one.  Some good info:  Over the last two years (Tim Donaghy's suspect period), he's been #1 among officials in technical fouls and #2 in personal fouls.  He averaged 47.7 fouls, above the league average of 45.  Of course, his 47.7 isn't abnormally deviating from the league average; remember, just because he's second highest doesn't mean he's abnormal... he's within a very acceptable one standard deviation from the norm.  He appears to be within the league quota (as we wrote about yesterday, there is a "league quota" on fouls to be called, which is around 45-46).

However, he's way above the league average (1.78) in techincal fouls called.  A lot of the quotes from coaches is that "he had a quick temper", which would seem to support that he liked to blow his whistle on technicals faster than most referees.  It could also be that he liked to call other T's, such as for illegal defense (not called any more), for delay of games, etc.  But almost all technicals are for temper tantrums.  And so we attribute this abnormality to one or more factors:  he could be quick to blow the whistle because he is a hot head himself (as backed up by his reported run-ins with neighbors and mailmen); or he was looking for quick free throws to run up the score.  The best way to tell if the second is a factor (not to mention as a good way to see if his regular foul calls is suspect) is to compare the data from this two year period to his career averages, particularly his recent career.

Okay, we are all out of questions.  Um, so random YouTube video followed by personal stories?:


Yeah, that was Careless Whisper.  It reminds me of my second favorite story from Lebanon.  My first?  Being at dinner party with my friend, who worked for the BBC, and a bunch of foreign news reporters in Beirut, when a car bomb went off less than a mile away.  No big deal, I kinda knew what it was right away (what, I'm not from a warzone, but I'm from the hood... I know the sound of "oh sh*t"), but 60% of the party took off right away to get the story.  

The second best story?  The friend who worked locally for the BBC was telling us about a documentary on the Ayatollah Khomeini he saw while staying in a hotel in Iran.  The documentary was all about his life and times, and was pretty standard state-sponsored propaganda.  But then near the end, they showed footage of the Ayatollah on his deathbed, and his son leaning over as Khomeini whispered something in ear.  Suddenly Careless Whisper started playing over the rest of the scene.  Taking the translation a little too literal.

Okay, now I'm done for real.   

Leave a comment

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[July 23, 2007 10:08 PM]  |  link  |  reply
The Spin said

This is a great article, with great research. I couldn't imagine refs making nearly $400,000. When you think about it, these guys work harder than the players during games. They run the court for 48 minutes, so their pay is quite relative.
Check me at www.clutch3.com

[July 23, 2007 10:19 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Jack Cobra said

Ok, here is my rundown....

Article about refs = Awesome work

Video from Careless Whisper = very weird

[July 24, 2007 9:04 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Anonymous said

Great article on the refs... it takes a lot of time and diligence to find this info.
The technical fouls are the one thing that makes Donaghy stand out. Doesn't Crawford call a lot of technical fouls as well? Could we conclude from this that Cardinal O'Hara grads are a bunch of hotheads as NBA refs or is it just coincidence?

While Donaghy's father wasn't an NBA ref, he was supposedly a well regarded college ref. Someone had made the connection that refs tend to be a family business. Looks like this is the case. He still seems to have gotten a very early start to his NBA career. I'm sure daddy's rep must have been a help.

[July 24, 2007 11:28 AM]  |  link  |  reply
Ricky - Sixers4guidos said

too many info man, LOL

seriously, congratulations, great research

you look like a blogger or something :-)

anyway some stats displayed here mean nothing to me (noto shooting the messenger but contesting the message) it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a team like SAS with the best big man of the League + 2 aggressive guards that are in constant attack-the-ring mode will get way more calls (even questionable ones) and FT that Suns or Jazz

Donaghy's numbers look "normal" as well, like you pointed out in the article

kudos again, I wish I have written this article, LOL

[July 24, 2007 11:38 AM]  |  link  |  reply
stopmikelupica said

Thanks for the feedback everyone, it's alway good to hear nice things!

Um, yeah, that Careless Whisper thing... just trying out new things. Hope it doesn't hurt my street cred too much....

[July 24, 2007 12:52 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Jack Cobra said

Don't tell me your next post includes a pic of David Stern wearing that tight red shirt from the Press Conference today with the song 'Secret Lovers' on a youtube clip below it

[July 24, 2007 1:23 PM]  |  link  |  reply
JJ said

I couldn't stop laughing at the mental imagery from Jack's comments. People are gonna start wondering about me now. LOL

[July 24, 2007 8:32 PM]  |  link  |  reply
Barnesgasm said

This post combines my two favorite things about this site: SML doing in depth research on things and giving me a lot of info and a well-informed information, and then random Youtube music videos. Keep both of them up!

[June 19, 2008 2:19 PM]  |  link  |  reply
sprintman said

I've been a basektball official for 30 years and a Lacrosse official for 1.

Ken Mauer was in my officials association in St. Paul when he was wallowing in obscurity with all the rest of us weekend warriers.

In basketball there is a good ol boy network you have to work your way thru to get to the next level. You put in your dues and are rewarded by getting varsity, then playoffs, then college and so on. So, every NBA official has gone thru that network, whether you "know" someone or not.

I got to the NCAA D3 level and decided that was enough since I already travelled plenty for work, I didn't want to have to travel for officiating also. These days I just officiate high school and little kids games, and picked up Lacrosse because of the shortage of officials in Lacrosse. Last year I made about $10,000 extra doing Lacrosse and Basketball. This year I'm picking up Football for the first time and between all three sports, I'll make about $15,000 extra - anywhere from $30 to $70 per hour for my efforts. That's not bad chump change for a part time job. That includes working 3 or 4 nights a week for a couple hours, and 4 to 6 hours on Saturdays plus some Sundays for AAU tournaments. It's a fun way to get paid for being involved in sports.

I'm naiive enough to think NBA officials are still honest enough to only call what they see and see what they call. Statistics like mentioned in the article don't mean much. Parents and coaches come up to me during games and point out the fouls between teams are disparate. I just tell them to tell their team to quit fouling so much. Trying to "even" out fouls, or trying to keep within a statistical range is cheating on the officials part.

Frankly I can't stand watching NBA basketball anyways, so really I don't care what NBA officials make or if they cheat. I'm going to stick with Lacrosse now anyways because it's such a "new" sport here in the midwest that there is a purity and honesty to it that we don't have in other American sports. Yes, there is a pro league, but those players don't make much of a living at it, and you can get scholarships to college in Lacrosse, but there aren't many, so there is no false visions of grandeur on the part of high school players. So right now Lacrosse is fun for me to officiate and Basketball not so - at least not at the high school level or higher. Some day I'll write a book on what I think is wrong with American sports.

[June 19, 2008 2:23 PM]  |  link  |  reply
sprintman said

On the other hand, with my poor grammar and bad writing style, I should just stick with officiating part time for my chump change instead of writing a book. (chuckles)


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