Basketball Officials

Basketball Referees and Officials

An official in basketball is a person responsible for spotting any rule violations and enforcing the appropriate penalties in basketball. Officials are vitally important to any basketball game, as they help to ensure a level playing field that prevents either team from having an unfair advantage.

The Basics of Refereeing

The referee in basketball is like any other referee in sports, he/she must keep order and make sure that all of the rules are followed. They are allowed to call fouls and violations whenever the rules are not followed correctly and must enforce all things clearly to keep the game moving on track. No matter the call or time of the game all calls run through the officials and always fall to the crew chief or senior official if there is a dispute in any way.

The Role of the Referee Pregame

At any level of basketball the referees have some responsibilities that take place before the game begins. They must make sure every uniform is worn correctly and no violations on this front are visible. Also, they will inspect the court, hoops, and game ball to make sure that it is sufficient and ready to be played with and on. The referees usually meet with the team captains to go over any specific items they need to discuss or just general preparations for the game too.

The Main Role of the Referee

Basketball Referee Calls

The referee's main job on the basketball court is to administer fouls and calls whenever the rules are not followed. They must do so to the best of their abilities at all times and without any subjective judgement. Travels, double dribbles, fouls, moving screens, etc. are all going to happen throughout the game so the referees must stay on top of it all and make sure the game is always played as fairly as possible.



Basketball officials must perform a number of inspections prior to the start of each game, primarily related to equipment. A few examples include making sure the balls are properly inflated, confirming that each team's jerseys meet league regulations, checking roster cards for inactive players, and examining the court for any wet spots or other potential slip hazards.


During the game, officials are tasked with calling fouls and violations, keeping track of the game clock and handling disputes from coaches/players. Officials need to remain focused and properly positioned throughout the game, as even the smallest mental lapse can represent the difference between making the right or wrong call.


Basketball Referee Shirt

Officials are easy to spot on the basketball court, donning a white/black striped shirt and slacks. Each official also has a whistle hanging around their neck, which is used to alert coaches and players that play has been stopped temporarily.

How Many Officials are Assigned to Each Game?

There are three on-court officials assigned to each NBA game. Each official has a different title and set of responsibilities. These three are referred to as the crew chief, referee, and umpire.

Crew Chief

The crew chief is the head of the entire officiating crew. Duties include making a final ruling when other officials disagree and maintaining a strong line of communication with coaches, scorers and statisticians.


Officials that occupy the referee position primarily handle conduct violations. While referees are well-equipped to call contact fouls and illegal positioning, they are mostly relied upon to settle disputes and hand out technical fouls if a player or coach loses control of their emotions and behaves poorly.


Umpires handle the clock (making sure the timer knows when to pause and restart the game clock due to a stoppage in play) and basic foul calls. For example, the umpire will likely be the official to hand down a ruling when a defensive player makes contact with an opposing shooter.

Replay Review

Basketball Replay Review

Another type of official that is rarely seen on-screen is the replay center official. When a close plays occurs and the on-court officials cannot confidently make a ruling in real-time, they often turn to the replay official. The replay official is generally not on-site and has access to several television screens that show the play in slow-motion from a number of different angles. Watching the play unfold frame by frame with a careful eye ultimately allows the replay official to reach the correct verdict, which is relayed to the on-court officials through a headset. Replays are usually needed when the ball goes out of bounds and officials are unsure of which team touched it last (determines which team gets possession of the ball).

How to Become a Basketball Official

Becoming a basketball official requires an immense amount of both physical and tactical training. Not only must officials be in strong cardiovascular shape so that they can run up and down the court with ease, they also need to develop communication skills and a concrete understanding of how to interpret each of the league's many rules. Regardless of the level (high school, college or professional), there is generally a certification course officials must pass in order to be certified to officiate games by the governing league.