Basketball is a sport that thrives on teamwork, skill, and precision. While players grab the spotlight, there’s another essential figure on the court that ensures fair play and maintains order: the basketball referee.

A basketball referee is more than just a person in stripes blowing a whistle; they are the guardians of the game, entrusted with upholding its rules and spirit. In this article, we will delve into the pivotal role of basketball referees, their responsibilities, the challenges they face, and how to become a basketball referee.

What Is a Basketball Referee?

Basketball Referee

Officials who enforce basketball rules are called referees or refs. Sports officials such as scorers and timekeepers participate in the game of basketball, but it is the referee who ensures fair play.

Also, read What is a Turnover in Basketball

How Many Referees Are There Per Basketball Game?

How many referees are required officiating a basketball game?

A basketball game is usually refereed by two or three officials. When there are two NBA referees in a game, one official serves as a referee and the other as an umpire. In terms of covering the court, these officials divide their responsibilities.

An official is designated as the “lead,” positioned along the baseline, and another as the “trail,” located on the left side of the court, covering the free throw line. To ensure the most coverage for each game, officials trade positions between halves of the court.

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games assign the jump ball to the lead official, though.

Three NBA referees serve as crew chiefs, as well as referees or umpires. Referee positions are determined by the crew chief in three-person games. As the trail positions themselves at the three-point line, the crew chief covers the weak side of the court (where the ball is). The third official stands near the free-throw line and is the center official. Referees and umpires are present at all International Basketball Federation (FIBA) games.

How to Become a Basketball Referee: Complete Guide

Basketball referees’ four responsibilities

There are several specific areas of responsibility for a basketball referee during gameplay. The following are among them:

  • 1. Basketballs: Referees have many responsibilities related to basketball possession during games. During extra periods, penalty situations, and at the beginning of the game, they toss the jump ball in. Throw-ins are also called by referees, and the ball is returned to play after it has gone out of bounds and for free throws it is given to the shooter.
  • 2. Equipment: Referees are also responsible for checking teams and equipment to ensure everything is in compliance with the rules. In addition to the hoop, backboard, and floor, they determine the safety of the court as a whole. Basketballs are also inflated to a weight of between seven and a half and eight and a half pounds by referees.
  • 3. Fouls: Technical fouls and personal fouls are called by basketball referees. An out-of-bounds ball, a traveling ball, and a double-dribble are examples of the latter. Players, teams, and staff are penalized for second violations based on the hand signals of the refs.
  • 4. Safety: Referees ensure that players, staff, and spectators are safe during games. Any illegal equipment is checked on the team uniforms and equipment prior to play. Furthermore, overly physical play is called for violations and fans are ejected from basketball courts for unruly behavior.

Also, read What Is a Double-Double in Basketball?

How to Become a Basketball Referee?

How to Become a Basketball Referee: Complete Guide

The following are some steps you can take to achieve your goal of becoming a professional basketball referee:

  • 1. Graduate from high school. All referee positions require a high school diploma or GED as a minimum requirement. Students who work as student managers or referee assistants at the high school level are also valuable at this stage.
  • 2. Work as a high school referee. For more information on high school athletics, contact your state or local association. The floor test, which measures your performance during actual gameplay, is also required for certification as a high school referee. High school positions also require an interview and background check.
  • 3. Complete the training. As a referee, you will receive training once you pass the tests. Basketball referee training can be conducted online or in person, depending on your state’s requirements.
  • 4. Find a job as a college referee. Become a referee for college tournaments by registering with the NCAA. Please submit your resume and clips of games you have refereed. Your application might also include testing, a background check, and an in-person interview.
  • 5. Apply to the NBA. Trying out for the NBA’s G League, or minor league, is the first step toward becoming a professional referee. The organization selects candidates based on their expertise and experience.

Also, read Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Basketball


How does a basketball referee enforce the rules of the game?

Basketball referees enforce the rules by closely observing the game, making immediate calls when violations occur, and communicating with players to maintain order.

Can referees reverse their decisions after consulting video replays?

Yes, with the introduction of technologies like Video Assistant Referees (VAR), referees have the option to review decisions based on video evidence and rectify any errors.

What qualities make a great basketball referee?

A great basketball referee possesses in-depth rule knowledge, the ability to make swift decisions under pressure, and exceptional communication skills to manage players effectively.

How do referees handle conflicts between players during a heated game?

Referees use their authority and communication skills to de-escalate conflicts, reminding players of their sportsmanship responsibilities and, if necessary, administering penalties.

How has technology impacted the traditional role of basketball referees?

Technology has introduced tools like video replays and VAR, enhancing the accuracy of refereeing decisions and sparking discussions about the balance between human judgment and technological assistance.


Basketball referees bear the enormous responsibility of maintaining a fair and competitive environment on the court. Their decisions can have a profound impact on the outcome of a game, making their role indispensable. A skilled referee possesses a deep understanding of the rules and regulations of the game, along with the ability to make split-second judgments while under immense pressure.


David Harris is a former player and after many years of writing and testing hundreds of products associated with the game, created this website to share his tips, basketballs and gear.  I look forward to continuing to grow and build this site and sharing great content.

Comments are closed.