By Tom Lambert
After an abysmal performance by the referees on Tuesday night that just may have cost the Celtics the game, several immediate questions came to mind. For example, I pondered what it takes to actually become an NBA referee. Is there required certified training or a school that they must attend? If so, what types of rigorous behavioral and judgmental exercises are they put through to pass muster? And just who decides on the number on their back? Is it chosen via lottery or does the ghost of Joe Cabot assign it? I needed answers and I demanded them faster than Violet Palmer could blow an easy call. My search began and ended with the website for The National Association of Officials.
According to the site, the NSoA is the world’s largest organization for sports officials at every level and all sports. Currently they have more than 16,000 members. Think about that. 16,000 referees. It’s like an entire town of people with poor judgment and closets full of cheap black chinos. Towards the middle of the page there was a “How to become an official” link. Below, you will find what I found (if you are not sitting down already I advise you to please do so immediately, for this is heavy material worthy of solemn contemplation), interspersed with my own commentary in bold. Apologies are offered in advance to the geniuses at firejoemorgan.com for using their format.
And now, onto…”How to become an official”, in their own words:
You’ve thought about becoming a basketball official and need a place to get started.
Find out about the local officials associations in your area. An officiating association is a group of officials who meet periodically to discuss rules, mechanics and philosophy. They are a great way for new officials to learn from veteran officials.
“So if I’m following you correctly, I wait until after the player has fallen to the floor and glares at me? Then I blow my whistle?”
Attend a game in your area and ask the officials what association they belong to and whom to contact for information. The association will be a valuable pool of resources for training, obtaining games and getting to know the officiating community.
This is a good start. Attend some games. Watch how the guy manages to shake his head both with and without his whistle. Follow him to his car when the sun goes down.
Physical Demands and Initial Training
Expect great physical demands. As the players’ ages increase and the competitive levels increase, the physical demands will rise. You will be required to run short distances many times. You will be constantly moving and on your feet.
Now this is misleading, much like Amway claiming they have “enthusiastic selling techniques”. At a minimum, they should also mention the emphatic skipping and thrusting.
Expect lectures, demonstration and exercises on the basic rules at local association meetings.
“Take your right hand. YOUR RIGHT HAND….place it behind your head…BEHIND YOUR HEAD LIKE YOU ARE POSING AS A PIN-UP”.
Polished, black, athletic shoes.
Black slacks with a belt is acceptable at lower levels but as the level of competition rises, beltless pants are the norm.
A striped shirt, V neck.
A whistle and a lanyard.
Estimated cost: $200. Sometimes, veteran officials have “hand—me—downs” that help new officials get started.
Wouldn’t you love to know who the beltless pioneer was? This has Bob Delaney written all over it.
Here’s the path for starting and continuing your officiating career:
*The youth level: Many officials start at that level. Contact your local recreation department leaders. Your local association should also help you make contacts to get games.
*Upgrading to high school: After working some games, you may feel you have the skills and confidence to work higher level competition. Contact your state association for registration information.
Something tells me it takes more than a few games to get accustomed to being bitched at by some acne-stained, arm sleeve wearing punk, probably named Tyler .
College officiating is a highly competitive level.. Obtaining a conference schedule and advancement within a conference is based on the league or conference. When first trying to enter a particular college conference, talk with officials who are currently in the conference. They can give you valuable information such as the conference commissioner and officiating camps to attend. College athletic directors or sports information directors can also be helpful. Click here for a NCAA college conference directory.
“So all I do is place tiny classified ads and wait for my income to grow?? Sounds great, when do I start??!!”
Attending officiating camps is an important tool to improve your officiating. Not only can you learn from experienced officials, you can be seen by those who assign games at that particular level, most often conference commissioners or officiating supervisors.
“I’m sorry honey but we have to cancel our European Vacation. It conflicts with the Referee Camp…But all the other conference commissioners are going to be there…Do you want me to miss out on becoming the next Ed Hightower??? You would like that, wouldn’t you??!!!”
Professional league: Though you don’t have to have top—level experience to become a professional official, some experience is required.
“I have to say your resume is impressive…Just one question, how were you able to minimize conflict when the shirts refused to go skin??”
For example, it would be unlikely that a person with one year of high school experience would be a serious candidate for the NBA or WNBA, though there is no set number of years or certain level of achievement required by the professional leagues.
So, you may or may not need a year experience to work at the highest level? Is the NBA that desperate that they need to lower the requirements to include any intramural jerk with a Foot Locker uniform? Why not rent some space at the Convention Center the next time the career fair blows through town. This explains so much, and yet I don’t feel any better.
Next, you may be invited to a summer identification camp. At the camp you will officiate and become familiar to the professional staff. From there you may be placed into the development program, which consists of off-season and in-season camps.
You’ve got to love how they use the terms “camp” and “program” to describe a guy with a comb over and polyester pants bragging about the time he barked “That’s enough, A.I.!” to a 14 year old Allen Iverson. And what exactly is the difference between off-season and in-season camps? Are the whistles different? It makes you wonder if there is an “in-season” bar where a bunch of wannabe refs, who have watched The Departed one too many times, haze the off-season guys that haven’t made to the in-season session. “What…are you having your period?”
If progress is made from year to year, you will be invited back to summer identification camps. You may then be chosen to be a professional official, continue working in the development program, or be released. As you progress through the evaluation process, you may be hired by the NBA to work in the NBDL. In your first three seasons, you will likely work NBDL, WNBA and NBA games before becoming a regular member of the NBA or WNBA staff.
At this point, I’m expecting to see a picture of Lindsay Wagner with a disclaimer that reads “There is no obligation. Just return the black Spot-Bilts within 30 days and there will be no charge. We’ll even pay the shipping!!!”
I walked away from the screen, a wiser man and yet no less frustrated. Alas, I took comfort in the fact that with those that I walk among, beltless pants are most definitely not the norm.