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What does a Basketball Official do?

By Steve R.
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The sport of basketball relies on officials to maintain order and guarantee that rules of the game are followed. A basketball official crew includes referees, official scorers, and timers. Each official has his own specific responsibilities, and the number serving during a particular game varies according to league rules.

Prior to tip-off, officials make sure everything needed for play is in working order. This includes ensuring the baskets are at the proper height and that the game ball is inflated to the proper pressure. They also make sure before taking the court that players are not wearing any equipment that will give them an unfair advantage.

A referee is responsible for interpreting rules on the court of play. He or she is recognizable on the court by a specially designed uniformed required by league rules, which often includes black pants and a white and black striped shirt. A referee carries a whistle and indicates an infraction by blowing it, which lets players and other officials know that play must be paused.

If play is paused for a personal foul, the referee signifies the infraction with the proper signal. He or she also signals the number of the player who committed the infraction and which way the ball should be brought back in bounds. In addition, a referee indicates with a hand signal whether a basket should be counted.

A scorer keeps track of baskets and free throws made and missed, as well as maintaining a running tally of points scored. The scoring official also registers personal and technical fouls on participants. When a player reaches a sixth personal foul, the scorer is responsible for alerting the referees right away. He or she also notates when a team is granted a timeout and alerts another official if a team exceeds the allotted number of timeouts.

In addition, a scorer keeps a log of the names, positions, and assigned numbers of all players who participate in a basketball contest. This person alerts another official if a team commits any line-up infraction. If a player fouls out, it is the duty of the official scorer to make sure the referee is aware of the situation.

Another basketball official is the timekeeper, who is responsible for correctly running the time of the game and stopping the clock whenever necessary. The timekeeper alerts officials and coaches shortly before regulation play in the first and second halves of the game is over. If league rules permit, an official also will be responsible for operating the shot clock. In case of clock malfunctions, the timekeepers will operate a backup clock.

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Discussion Comments
By TreeMan — On May 18, 2012

@JimmyT - You are correct and it really surprises me exactly how muchy criticism basketball officials receive.

To be honest, basketball is just a different game and everyone on the court, including the basketball officials, have to work together with one another during the course of a game.

Calls may be made differently in one game than another and some officials may call things differently than others but it is not any differen than umpires in baseball that have differing strike zones.

I feel like basketball officials get a bad rap for what they do and in reality it just shows the difference the game as opposed to other sports.

If anyone has any questions concerning how to call basketball games I say consult a basketball official and they will fill people on "the code" that officials go by in making calls and calling fair games, by letting some plays slide.

By JimmyT — On May 18, 2012

@jcraig - But, with that being said, does that team have any business winning the game in the first place?

I played basketbal and understand how physicality can determine the outcome of the game, but ultimately the plays made by the players are what determines the outcome of the game and not necessarily the officials.

I will say that players need to adjust to what the referees are calling, but it is even on the court and both teams can make the appropriate adjustments.

Unfortunately there are some referees that are just terirble, but I have always really felt that their impact is a bit overrated on the games as the bad calls will be made on both teams will even out and the fans feelings and emotions tend to make it seem like the calls are one sided.

By Izzy78 — On May 17, 2012
@jcraig - Well to be honest it is because a basketball official has more of an impact on the outcome of a game as opposed to football official.

Although on rare occasions an official can cost a game in football it depends on what the blown call is.

In basketball the outcome of the game relies more on the referees and what they either call or do not call.

It is difficult to explain if you are not too basketball oriented, but calling fouls is something in basketball that is more based on judgment and is not as clear as in other sports.

Because of this judgment a clear balance has to be found to not make too many calls, and make sure that calls that need to be made are made appropriately.

If this is not done a larger team can out muscle and bully a smaller team and this has happened numerous times when an official refuses to make the right calls and does not realize the situation they are in.

By jcraig — On May 16, 2012

I really feel like it seems that basketball officials are the main officials that garner the most negative press and criticism as opposed to other sports like baseball or football.

I know that football officials do get a lot of criticism, but I think that people understand that calls are not as easy to make, because there is so much area to cover and things to look at at once.

However, in basketball it seems like it is a difficult game to officiate, maybe more so than football, yet people seem to criticize referees and officials more. I am wondering why this is so and I want to emphasis I am not too basketball oriented.

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