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What is a Basketball Referee?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A basketball referee relies on his or her expert knowledge of basketball rules and regulations to officiate a game in a fair manner. He or she must be in good physical condition, as the nature of the game requires referees to frequently run, stop, and turn, all while keeping a careful eye on the action. In addition, a good basketball referee is entirely objective, assertive in his or her rulings, and effective at quickly setting disputes.

Referees at all levels of competition are essential to ensure fair, safe play. From local youth leagues to college and professional associations, referees must thoroughly understand all of the rules and be able to enforce them when appropriate. Many referees at the youth and high school level have little or no formal training; they commit to learning the rules and duties of the job on their own. Officials who work at college and professional basketball events generally have extensive experience at lower levels of competition as well as formal training from a referee camp or academy. Training camps may take anywhere from ten to 15 weeks to complete, and involve extensive classroom instruction and practice events.

Whistles and stopwatches are essential pieces of equipment for a basketball referee. He or she uses a whistle to signal to players, timekeepers, scorers, and other referees that play is to be stopped or started. A basketball referee keep track of the official game clock and shot clock on a stopwatch in case a scoreboard clock malfunctions.

Referees usually work in teams of two or three to help ensure that proper calls are made. When a foul or rule violation is committed, the referees will stop play, collaborate on difficult calls, and use hand signals to inform scorers, players, and the crowd of the infraction. There is an extensive set of hand signals that a referee must commit to memory so that they may be used properly throughout a game.

At times, a basketball referee may be faced with difficult judgment calls, such as determining the last person that touched the ball before it went out-of-bounds. He or she is required to make quick, assertive decisions that may be unpopular with some fans and players. A referee must remain committed to his or her rulings despite opposition. In addition, a referee may have to explain their calls to angry coaches, break up on-court skirmishes, and eject violent players from a game. The job can be quite emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding, but a good referee is skilled at handling stress and difficult decisions with poise and professionalism.

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Discussion Comments

By stl156 — On May 28, 2012

@TreeMan - That is true and that shows how much of an impact the referee can have on a basketball game.

This also means that a basketball referee needs to show no bias in what they are doing and be sure they call a fair game for both sides and all players without favoritism.

I really think that overall there needs to be reforms in how the rule book describes judgment calls and have a much clearer interpretation on what should be called.

There is way too much gray area in a foul and the official is at a disadvantage because it is way too easy to call too few fouls and too many fouls.

I really believe that basketball officiating is the hardest game to officiate and that it is something that someone should be sure about before they get into it.

By TreeMan — On May 28, 2012

@jmc88 - I absolutely agree and as an outsider I have always thought that in the high levels of basketball the officials let the elite players get away with more things than they should.

That being said, which is the consensus opinion from most people, this in itself means the elite players have an advantage over the mediocre players in the league and this can throw off the level of competition.

This is why I do not like how basketball officiating is more about interpretation of the official as opposed to a clear cut case in the rule book.

This type of bias has led some people to believe that basketball is the easiest game to fix as far as betting goes and there has even been an instance of an NBA official purposely calling fouls to make the score right in regards to what he bet on with the game.

By jmc88 — On May 27, 2012

@JimmyT - I absolutely agree. I am a big guy and when I played basketball every single time there was a referee that let too much go that automatically put me at an advantage over the smaller person I was guarding. That meant many times I could foul them and get away with it and the foul would not be called.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often and once the game gets too physical fights can break out and this is due to the inaction of the official to properly call the game.

Sometimes officials let things go, but the way the game takes shape is what really decides what calls to make. Like say an NBA playoff game the officials may let more picky fouls go as the good teams battle it out.

However, when this is done the official has to make sure they do not let what they are ignoring get out of hand or else great problems can occur in the level of competition or people could even get hurt.

By JimmyT — On May 26, 2012

I am a basketball official for high school and I can say that there is a lot more judgment from the official in the game of basketball as opposed to other sports, where that players tend to play it out and the referee does not greatly impact the game too often.

Although most of the time a basketball game will be decided by the players, sometimes it comes down to how the official assesses certain calls and interprets certain actions by players.

Smart players can take advantage of an official letting too much go and the more physical team will almost always win these contests.

That being said the official in basketball has a major responsibility to be fair and make sure that they are doing everything fair to both teams in interpretation to the rule book as well as what they see on the floor and how the game progresses.

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