How Much Do NBA Refs Make? A Salary Guide for Referees

If you know anything about basketball, it’s that NBA players make a ton of money! It might seem ludicrous how much they make, but when you’re one of the top athletes in the world, you deserve to get paid. The same goes for NBA referees because, without them, the NBA wouldn’t be what it is today.

So, how much do NBA refs make?

The starting salary for an NBA referee is estimated to be between $150-$180k, and as of 2021 tops out near $550k. We only have estimates because the 73 referees employed by the NBA are represented by a union whose collective bargaining agreements with the NBA are private by terms of the contract.

All industries experience growth and with that comes a raise in salary. In the early 1980s when the NBA started to climb in popularity a first-year referee could expect to make $18,000. That’s a tenfold increase in referee pay over the last 40 years.

Helping the referees realize the considerable pay raise was the union that represents them, the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA). They represent every referee in the NBA and WNBA and they enter into contracts with the respective leagues, most recently for seven years in 2015.

The NBRA not only assists in salary increases, but they’ve also negotiated other financial benefits and ensure the quality of officiating by running the training camps new refs must attend to be hired.

Why Do NBA Refs Make So Much Money?

Being an NBA referee is a full-time job and to make it into the league you are considered the best of the best. It’s not something that anyone can show up and decide to do one day. You start at the bottom in the lower leagues and work yourself up through high school and college before you’re chosen to go to a training camp to elevate your skills even more.

Furthermore, you must be physically fit. An NBA official is tasked with running up and down the court with some of the best athletes in the world for 48 minutes of regulation play with possible overtime thrown in.

These men and women dedicate their lives to the sport. They meet before the game to discuss game plans and the tendencies of the individual players in the game.

They meet at half-time to discuss any troublesome calls or actions during the first half and they meet after the game to examine the game as a whole. They play a crucial role as their actions can and often do determine the outcome of a game.

Who Are the Top 5 Paid NBA Refs?

When it comes to referee salary, seniority rules. The top paid referees are the ones who have been with the league the longest. Some of them have been around for more than a quarter-century!

The refs with the longest tenure in the NBA are, Scott Foster with 26 seasons, Tony Brothers with 27, Tom Washington has 30 seasons, Bill Spooner edges Mr. Washington out with 32, and Ken Mauer has a whopping 35 seasons! All of these professionals are likely making over half a million dollars a year from just their salaries.

Their time in the league is what determines their league salaries but any referee with an entrepreneurial spirit can make some extra cash off the court.

Being an NBA referee does come with a little fame and that opens the door for speaking engagements, special appearances, and any number of opportunities. Sometimes referees find themselves making money frowned upon by the NBA, and the law.

How Many Games Do NBA Refs Work Per Season?

An aerial view of the Toronto Raptor's basketball court.

The NBA has 82 regular-season games, 41 games at home and 41 away. Each game has seven officials, the crew chief, an official scorer, two timekeepers, two referees and one to handle replays.

At the end of the season, the 16 teams with the best records move on to the playoffs. The most senior and best of the league officials are chosen for these games.

These teams playoff against each other in a series of best of seven until one team from the West and one from the East face off for the Championship, making for a possible 105 extra basketball games, though that would mean each series would have to play the maximum seven games and that’s highly unlikely.

Do NBA Refs Pay for Their Travel Expenses?

Although refs make a good salary, they travel a lot and expenses start to quickly add up. Thanks to the success of the NBA and the representation of the NBRA, referees get hotel accommodations, airfare paid for, and a food per diem.

Back in 1997, some refs found themselves in hot water with the IRS. They discovered a loophole where they could cash in their first-class airline tickets and downgrade them to coach seats.

The difference between one first-class and coach ticket is substantial, but when 43 NBA officials are doing it over the course of 70+ games, it makes for large enough sums to garner the attention of Uncle Sam.

All of those refs were fired, and all were subsequently rehired after fines and discipline were meted out. Among those refs that were caught in the scandal was the above-mentioned Ken Mauer.

Is It Hard to Become an NBA Referee?

Becoming an NBA referee could be considered just as hard, if not harder, than becoming an NBA player. You can’t just wake up one day, decide you want to ref in the NBA and go fill out an application.

These men and women have dedicated their lives to the sport. They start in lower leagues of basketball and work their way up. You have to be invited to come train for the job and even then, they only take the best of the best.

Considering there are only 73 positions and some of those roles have been filled for more than 30 years, it’s far harder to become a ref than a player. If you’re lucky, you might make it to the G-League or the WNBA.

How Much Do G League Refs Make?

The NBA Gatorade League (G League) began as a developmental league for the NBA near the start of the new millennium in 2001. At its inception, it was known as the National Basketball Development League, before quickly becoming the improved diminutive, D League.

In 2017, Gatorade came on board as a sponsor and the G League was born. Also in 2017, the NBRA entered into their first collective bargaining agreement with the league, thus raising the level of compensation for its referees. Since 2017, a second agreement was reached in 2019 for three years, increasing the pay for referees further.

The exact details of the agreements are by contract secretive, but it is estimated that G League referees make anywhere from $425-$600 a game. Like their major league counterparts in the NBA, they can expect extra perks such as health insurance and paid expenses. Not to mention the valuable lessons that will enable them to one day possibly move up to the NBA.

How Much Do WNBA Refs Make?

A women's college basketball team.

Like the refs in the NBA and the G League, the referees of the WNBA are represented by the NBRA. They too have benefited from the collective bargaining agreements reached by their union.

Unfortunately, the WNBA does not attract as many fans as the NBA and therefore has less revenue. The schedule that they work is also not quite as long as the NBA so these refs are only considered “part-time” employees.

Comparable to the G League refs, WNBA refs are expected to make anywhere from $425-$600 a game. With that said, the NBRA reached a separate private collective bargaining agreement for WNBA refs as well so these are merely estimates.

What is known is that since these are considered “part-time” employees most are expected to have a separate “full-time” job that provides them with a steadier income.

How Much Do NCAA Basketball Refs Make?

College Basketball referees have more opportunities to practice their trade. In the men’s D-1 alone, there are 353 teams and 32 conferences. Some of these conferences attract more eyes, and therefore more money than the others. Consequently, certain conference referees make more than others.

The range in compensation is vast. A big conference referee for a D-1 School can make as much as $2,000 a game and ref anywhere from 50 to 100 games a season, earning up to $200,000 for the regular season. Whereas a D-2 referee can make as little as $10,000 a year.

How Much Do High School Basketball Referees Make?

High School basketball officiating is what one might call a labor of love. Most of these men and women have “full-time” jobs in other career fields and use their referee skills as supplemental income. The rates for high school refs vary from conference to conference, state to state, and Junior Varsity to Varsity.

If you can find yourself the work and do enough games, it can certainly make a difference to your wallet. The lower end of the scale for high school basketball referees is $35 a game and can reach as high as $75. Considering a typical basketball game is 2.5 hours, that’s over $25 an hour. Not Bad.

How Much Do NBA Floor Sweepers Make?

While the average NBA player’s salary is $8.3 million, it’s pretty important these guys don’t get hurt and have to sit out games. Crucial in the role of keeping them safe is making sure their workspace is clean.

All kinds of dirt and debris can be found on a basketball court. Dirt, sweat, spilled Gatorade, and popcorn are just some of the substances that can trip up the superstars of the game. As shown, the role of NBA floor sweeper is pretty important and apparently comes with the somewhat lucrative salary of $80k.

If you’re thinking about jumping out and filling out an application, you’re not alone. As of June 2021, the chatter on Twitter is full of people who have the same idea. Maybe check for open backboard glass cleaner positions.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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