Official (basketball)

Last updated
NCAA official Moe Kincaid making a call in a 2008 college basketball game Basketball official.jpg
NCAA official Moe Kincaid making a call in a 2008 college basketball game

In basketball, an official (usually called a referee) enforces the rules and maintains order in the game. The title of official also applies to the scorers and timekeepers, as well as other personnel that have an active task in maintaining the game. Basketball is regarded as among the most difficult sports to officiate due to the speed of play, complexity of rules, the case-specific interpretations of rules, and the instantaneous decision required.


There is one lead referee and one or two umpires, depending on whether there is a two- or three-person crew. In the NBA, the lead official is called the crew chief with one referee and one umpire. [1] In FIBA-sanctioned play, two-man crews consist of a referee and an umpire, and three-man crews contain a referee and two umpires.

Regardless, both classes of officials have equal rights to control almost all aspects of the game. In most cases, the lead official (in FIBA, the referee) performs the jump ball to begin the contest, though NFHS and NCAA have allowed the referee to designate which official (referee or umpire) shall perform the jump ball.


In American high school and college basketball, officials wear black-and-white-striped shirts with black side panels, black pants, and black shoes. Some state high school associations allow officials to wear grey shirts with black pin-stripes instead of black-and-white-striped shirts.

NBA officials wear light grey shirts with black slacks and black shoes. The NBA shirt is light grey with thin white stripes, black sleeves, a black stripe on either side, a red and blue collar, the official's number in the center at the top on the back, and the NBA logo above the left breast and the Nike Swoosh on the right. NBA Summer League officials wear the same light grey shirt but with a black collar. The WNBA referee shirt is almost identical to the NBA referee shirt except that its collar is orange and the WNBA logo takes the place of the NBA logo.

FIBA officials wear a grey (torso) and black (sleeves) shirt, black trousers, black socks, and black shoes. Officials in competitions organized by Euroleague Basketball – the EuroLeague and EuroCup – wear an orange shirt. Officials in the Israel Basketball Association wear the EuroLeague's orange shirt but sometimes wear royal blue shirts for contests between two Israeli teams. NBL officials wear green shirts with black shoulders and stripes on the sides with black pants. The NBL logo is atop the breast and a sponsor's name is on the back. Shirts are V-neck, without a collar, and pants lack belts.

All officials wear a whistle that is used to stop play as a result of a foul or a violation on the court. Hand signals are used to indicate the nature of the infraction or to administer the game.

In higher levels of college and professional basketball, officials wear a timing device on the belt-line called PTS (Precision Timing System). The device is used by on-court officials to start and stop the game clock in a timely manner, rather than waiting for the scoreboard operator (timekeeper) to do so.

Positions and responsibilities

A diagram of the relative positions of basketball officials in "three-person" mechanics. The lead official (L) is normally along the baseline of the court. The trail official (T) takes up a position approximately level with the top of the three-point line. The center official (C) stands across the court near the free throw line. Basketball official positions.svg
A diagram of the relative positions of basketball officials in "three-person" mechanics. The lead official (L) is normally along the baseline of the court. The trail official (T) takes up a position approximately level with the top of the three-point line. The center official (C) stands across the court near the free throw line.

The officials must ensure that the game runs smoothly, and this encompasses a variety of different responsibilities, from calling the game to player and spectator management. They also carry a duty of care to the players they officiate and to ensure that the court and all equipment used is in a safe and usable condition. Should there be an issue that inhibits the safe playing of the game, then it is the job of the officials to rectify the problem. Quite often, the job of an official surpasses that of the game at hand, as they must overcome unforeseen situations that may or may not have an influence on the game.

There are two standard methods for officiating a basketball game, either "two-person" or "three-person" mechanics depending on how many officials are available to work the game.

In "two-person" mechanics, each official works either the lead or the trail position. The lead position is normally along the baseline of the court, with the trail position having its starting point at the free throw line extended on the left side of the court facing the basket. Officials change position often during the game to cover the area in the best possible way. As the game transitions from one end of the court to the other, the lead becomes the trail and vice versa. Between the two positions, each is responsible for a specific part of the court as well as two each of the side, base or back court lines. Officials change position after certain calls (mostly when the lead official calls a defensive foul). This allows officials to alternate between positions to increase the speed of play; one official will approach the bench whilst another, usually the closest to the bench at that time, will move to occupy his position. This also prevents one official from always working one particular team's basket throughout the course of the game.

In "three-person" mechanics, the court is further divided among three officials, with the lead (baseline) official determining the position of the other two officials. Normally, the lead official will move to the side of the court in which the ball is located (strong side), particularly if there is a "post-up" player in that position. The official that is on the same sideline as the lead official then takes up a position approximately level with the top of the three-point line and becomes the "trail" official, while the third official will stand across the court near the free throw line in what is called the center position. This creates a triangle coverage of the court. Often, the lead will switch sides of the baseline during a play, requiring the trail to move down to be level with the free-throw line and become the new center, while the center will move up and become the trail. As the ball moves to the other end of the court in transition, the lead will become the trail, the trail will become the lead, and the center official will remain in the center (unless the new "lead" moves across the baseline to cover the strong side, in which case the center official and trail would then switch positions.)


NBA officials Monty McCutchen (center), Tom Washington (#49) and Brent Barnaky reviewing a play. Tom Washington, Monty McCutchen, Brent Barnaky on March 30, 2011.jpg
NBA officials Monty McCutchen (center), Tom Washington (#49) and Brent Barnaky reviewing a play.

Basketball is regarded by many fans as among the most difficult sports to officiate. [2] Usually basketball officials have only split seconds to determine if an infraction has occurred, due to the speed of play of the game and the officials' proximity to the action. Especially difficult are the "charge/block" call, shooting foul/block attempt and couple others which varies from official to official, as to which player is responsible for contact. Officials often rely on instant replay to review plays. Only recently would a coach be allowed to contest a call by the official, or one missed by them, but is only valid for a specific window.

Despite the misconception that basketball is a non-contact sport, officials often let a large amount of marginal or incidental contact pass uncalled. An official must always be aware of not just what is happening around the ball, but the roughness of play going on around the whole court, adding to the job of the official.

Further complicating the job of an official is the proximity to the crowds. Unlike football or baseball, the crowd is nearly always located within a few feet of the official, as are coaches and other players on the bench. To combat this, officials are able to remove a fan from the arena with an ejection.


The duties [3] of the basketball referee is exactly this - to ensure the game is played safely and fairly. The referee enforces the rules of the game and in a game will make hundreds of decisions – determining when a violation or foul occurs and then stopping the game to issue the correct penalty.


When a violation occurs, game action is immediately stopped. These include traveling, illegal dribbles, out-of-bounds, and other violations. The official is required to blow the whistle and immediately stop play and award the ball over to the opposing team which allows for fair play in the game. Along with those, you can have contact fouls in game that if called will result in the opponent getting two shots from the free throw line.

Related Research Articles

Referee A person or authority who oversees and rules matchs activities in competitive sport

A referee is an official, in a variety of sports and competition, responsible for enforcing the rules of the sport, including sportsmanship decisions such as ejection. The official tasked with this job may be known by a variety of other titles depending on the sport, including umpire, judge, arbiter (chess), commissaire, or Technical Official. Referees may be assisted by umpires, linesmen, timekeepers, or touch judges.

Umpire (baseball) Person charged with officiating a baseball game

In baseball, the umpire is the person charged with officiating the game, including beginning and ending the game, enforcing the rules of the game and the grounds, making judgment calls on plays, and handling the disciplinary actions. The term is often shortened to the colloquial form ump. They are also sometimes addressed as blue at lower levels due to the common color of the uniform worn by umpires. In professional baseball, the term blue is seldom used by players or managers, who instead call the umpire by name. Although games were often officiated by a sole umpire in the formative years of the sport, since the turn of the 20th century, officiating has been commonly divided among several umpires, who form the umpiring crew. The position is analogous to that of a referee in many other sports.

Referee (association football)

In the sport of association football, the referee is the person responsible for enforcing the Laws of the Game (LOTG) during a match. He or she is the final decision-making authority on all facts connected with play, and is the only official on the pitch with the authority to start and stop play and impose disciplinary action against players during a match. At most levels of play the referee is assisted by two assistant referees, who are empowered to advise the referee in certain situations such as the ball leaving play or infringements of the Laws of the Game occurring out of the view of the referee; however, the assistant referees' decisions are not binding and the referee has authority to overrule an assistant referee. At higher levels of play the referee may also be assisted by a fourth official who supervises the teams' technical areas and assists the referee with administrative tasks, and, at the very highest levels, additional assistant referees and/or video assistant referees.

College basketball Amateur basketball played by students of higher education institutions

College basketball in the United States is governed by collegiate athletic bodies including National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA), the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), and the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). Each of these various organizations are subdivided into from one to three divisions based on the number and level of scholarships that may be provided to the athletes.

An umpire in field hockey is a person with the authority to make decisions on a hockey pitch in accordance with the rules of the game. Each match is controlled by two such umpires. In theory they are responsible for decisions taken on their respective half of the field, but practically they 'control' on either diagonal half of the field. In many higher-level events, a reserve umpire is appointed in addition to the two field umpires to act as a back-up in the event of injury or other issue preventing a field umpire from commencing or continuing a match. In World-Level competitions, a video umpire is also appointed in addition to the field and reserve umpires.

Free throw Penalty in basketball

In basketball, free throws or foul shots are unopposed attempts to score points by shooting from behind the free throw line, a line situated at the end of the restricted area. Free throws are generally awarded after a foul on the shooter by the opposing team, analogous to penalty shots in other team sports. Free throws are also awarded in other situations, including technical fouls, and when the fouling team has entered the bonus/penalty situation. Also depending on the situation, a player may be awarded between one and three free throws. Each successful free throw is worth one point.

Personal foul (basketball) Illegal contact with an opponent in basketball

In basketball, a personal foul is a breach of the rules that concerns illegal personal contact with an opponent. It is the most common type of foul in basketball. A player fouls out on reaching a limit on personal fouls for the game and is disqualified from participation in the remainder of the game.

Official (ice hockey) Ice hockey official

In ice hockey, an official is a person who has some responsibility in enforcing the rules and maintaining the order of the game. There are two categories of officials, on-ice officials, who are the referees and linesmen that enforce the rules during game play, and off-ice officials, who have an administrative role rather than an enforcement role.

Official (gridiron football) Game administrator in American football

In gridiron football, an official is a person who has responsibility in enforcing the rules and maintaining the order of the game.

Instant replay or action replay is a video reproduction of something that recently occurred which was both shot and broadcast live. The video, having already been shown live, is replayed in order for viewers to see again and analyze what had just taken place. Some sports allow officiating calls to be overturned after the review of a play. Instant replay is most commonly used in sports, but is also used in other fields of live TV. While the first near-instant replay system was developed and used in Canada, the first instant replay was developed and deployed in the United States.

Rules of basketball

The rules of basketball are the rules and regulations that govern the play, officiating, equipment and procedures of basketball. While many of the basic rules are uniform throughout the world, variations do exist. Most leagues or governing bodies in North America, the most important of which are the National Basketball Association and NCAA, formulate their own rules. In addition, the Technical Commission of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) determines rules for international play; most leagues outside North America use the complete FIBA ruleset.

Earl Strom

Earl "Yogi" Strom was an American professional basketball referee for 29 years in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and for three years in the American Basketball Association (ABA). Strom is credited as one of the greatest referees in the history of the NBA and was known for his flamboyant style and ability to control the game. Nicknamed "The Pied Piper", the assertive Strom made foul calls with his whistle by using a "tweet-pause-tweet-tweet" tune and pointing at the offending player. In addition to calling fouls with flair, he was known for ejecting players from games with style and he sometimes supported his rulings with physical force.

Umpire (Australian rules football)

An umpire is an official in the sport of Australian rules football who adjudicates the game according to the "Laws Of The Game", the official handbook of Australian Rules Football.

Steve Javie American basketball referee (born 1955)

Steve Javie is an American retired professional basketball referee who refereed in the National Basketball Association (NBA) from the 1986–87 NBA season to the 2010–11 season. Javie officiated 1,514 regular season, 243 playoff, and 23 NBA Finals games. According to Referee magazine, Javie was a highly regarded referee in the NBA, and he was respected within the officiating community for his game management skills. He was also notable during his NBA officiating career for his quickness in assessing technical fouls.

In professional wrestling, a referee is an authority figure present in or near the ring during matches. The referee's purpose is similar to that of referees in combat sports such as boxing or mixed martial arts, that is, as an arbiter of the rules and the person charged with rendering decisions. In reality, the referee is, like the wrestlers, a participant in executing a match in accordance with its script including its pre-determined outcome, and is responsible for controlling the flow of the match and for relaying information or instructions from backstage officials to the wrestlers. Like wrestlers, referees are also responsible for maintaining kayfabe, and must render decisions in accordance with the promotion's kayfabe rules.

The 1981 NBA playoffs were the postseason tournament of the National Basketball Association's 1980–81 season. The tournament concluded with the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics defeating the Western Conference champion Houston Rockets 4 games to 2 in the NBA Finals. Cedric Maxwell was named NBA Finals MVP.

Official (tennis)

In tennis, an official is a person who ensures that a match or tournament is conducted according to the International Tennis Federation Rules of Tennis and other competition regulations.

An official in Canadian football is a person who has responsibility in enforcing the rules and maintaining the order of the game, like their counterparts in the American game. In the Canadian Football League, seven officials operate on the field. Lower levels of play up to the university level use less than the standard seven.

Basketball is a ball game and team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules. Since being developed by James Naismith as a non-contact game that almost anyone can play, basketball has undergone many different rule variations, eventually evolving into the NBA-style game known today. Basketball is one of the most popular and widely viewed sports in the world.


  1. Rule 2, Section I, a. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  2. Writer, JIM NELSON, Courier Sports. "Basketball among toughest sports to officiate". Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier.
  3. "Technical Officials | Basketball Australia".