NBA Referee Salary: How Much Do NBA Refs Make?

The NBA refs are an amazing group of people whose job is to inshore that everybody on the floor is playing basketball by the same rules. This way, all the participants have the same chance for the win. Otherwise, it would be chaos.

The information that skips everybodys radar is the fact that NBA officials are taking away the boring segments out of a basketball game and by doing that they leave us with the fun stuff only. They observe the game with different eyes, they see what others don’t. For them, it is about the small things, the things average fan do not notice. They are on a different level of knowing basketball ( help you to know more).

If we really want to understand the perspective of one NBA referee, we have to run a mile in their shoes just to get a real feel what it takes to be a judge to a basketball game.

We will start with the simple question. What do you see on this video where LeBron James is hitting a game winning shot against the Toronto Raptors:

The 99% of average basketball fan saw the King running up the floor and making a difficult shot go in. Do we all agree on this? Best player on the Earth did it again, everybody was impressed, such a great basket…bla bla bla… one part of the fans were happy, the haters thought it was pure luck and the rest were just impressed on the play.

Everybody watch that buzzer beater. Do you know who didn’t watch it? Three men in black and white stripes. They were watching everything else so we could enjoy the fun part. And this is what they saw:

  • Was the inbound pass legal (did Kevin Love stepped over the line)
  • Were there any fouls on LeBron (two players were around him)
  • Were there any fouls on George Hill
  • Is Lebron traveling while starting to dribble the ball
  • Is screen set by Kevin Love legal (movement, legs, intensity, hands, elbows, hips)
  • Is the player guarding LeBron James fouling the screener
  • Is LeBron fouled in a contact while starting the dribble penetration
  • Is LeBron committing offensive foul with the off-hand
  • Is the screen legal on the week side of the offense
  • Is the battle for position under the basket, involving George Hill, legal
  • Is Kyle Korver out of bounds (if he gets the ball from LeBron)
  • Clock in each of these plays

This is the perspective of how one NBA referee is looking at the game. Play by play, they are constantly making a decision on each and every of them. No matter if there is no call, the call is that there is no call. This is hard work and the focus has to be 100% all the time.

The long day of an NBA official starts long before the jump ball. The preparation for every game begins about 8 hours before the tip-off. They are very diligent about their film study so there are a lot of snapshots taken and analyzed thoroughly. Play by play, the three judges are putting their minds on how to get better.

It is a session of a self critique that has only one goal: Striving for perfection they know it is likely to come. The analytics say that 99% of the calls are good, but it is in our nature to judge these people by that 1%. And we often say that they are not fair.

Here is some interesting information about the mistakes refs made during the first half of the 2018 season.

information about the mistakes refs made

It is interesting that the teams that were most deprived of a good officiating were silent and did not make much fuss about it, like the Nets and Mavs, and the teams that were officiated the best, like the Dubs, had multiple players with plenty of technical fouls during the season.

Here is the similar table regarding the players:

similar table regarding the players

Again, the Nets and the Mavs are here, and no Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, the players that had the most technical foul calls during the season.

Other than knowing basketball rules, there is so much to the job that we don’t know. Refs need to be in good physical shape all the time. They cover up to 4 miles in a single game, and often they need to chase professional players in order to be able to catch a good angle and see the play. O yeah, they have no subs. They work out every day in a gym and they have weight measurements three times a year.  

Regardless of what they actually do, the most asked question about their job is considered the money that they make. The average money that an NBA ref is making is between $150,000 to $550,000. The entry-level judges, the rookies, they made $150,000, and as they progress both in skill and experience, money is getting better. The big part in how much money will the refs get is the popularity of the league.

10 years ago, when NBA was not 24/7, 365 days a year sport, the salary was from $90,000 to $200,000 max. As the league is growing in popularity, more money is infused in everything. If we want to compare how the NBA is ranked popularity wise, the NFL refs salary for a year is between $25,000 and $75,000. 

Here is a table that is showing how much referees make per game:

Here is a table that is showing how much referees make per game:

Those numbers are for regular season games, and the best officials are selected for the playoffs, where they are paid significantly more.

2019 The salary for the postseason was like this:

salary for the postseason was like this

And just a few years ago, smaller amount of money was on the table:

And just a few years ago, smaller amount of money was on the table:

The salaries for the other leagues are smaller. College referee’s for D1 NCAA league make about $2000 per game, and they can work as much as 70 games that the league provides. The best-played refs in NCAA make as much as the youngest in the NBA. The WNBA offers smaller amounts, just because the lack of hype that the NBA has. Still, they can earn as much as $500 a game.

In order to be great in their job, they say that a good referee needs to have a strong will, conviction, strong sense of what is right and what is wrong, to be a good interpret for the law. Combine that with the video work, commitment to the craft, to the profession, the 48 minutes of NBA intensity, while learning from their own mistakes, they are defining themselves rather than the game itself.

At the end of the day, those people are just humans who are trying to do their jobs best they can, and it is important that they know that too. There is nothing more satisfying than the act of self-recognition regarding mistakes we made. That is the only way a human can grow:

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is the highest paid referee in the NBA?

Joseph Crawford reportedly makes a yearly salary of about $166,000. His closest competitor is Ken Mauer who makes about $145,000 a year. After that the salary per year drops closer to the $120,000 mark with Ron Garretson making $127,000, Danny Crawford making $120,000.

How much do college basketball refs make?

There is not a set salary for NCAA basketball referees because they do not have an established union regulating pay. The amount of pay they earn each year is dependent on the number of games they officiate. Per game the referee will make somewhere between $1000 and $3000 during the regular season.

Is it hard to become a NBA referee?

You have to remember that basketball is a fast paced game and the referee has to keep up with the players on the court. To become an NBA referee you will normally start as part of the Developmental league and then work your way up through the ranks. The referees must register with the NBA and when they receive an invitation they can attend tryouts. If they are selected they will then attend a training camp and be part of a final selection.