Basketball Referees: Definition, functions, signals and more

Basketball referees are the law figure on the court, hated by many and sometimes loved by others, but there is no doubt that they have a great role and importance within the game.

Basketball refereeing is a great profession that you can develop with preparation and training.

Today we will delve into this emblematic figure of basketball, you will learn its functions, characteristics, income and more topics related to the basketball referee.

What or who is the basketball referee?

The referee or basketball judge is the highest authority figure in the game, in charge of making decisions to ensure compliance with the rules and to preserve the physical integrity of the players.

Referees must be neutral and 100% focused on the game in order to make the best decisions.

They are part of the refereeing team, which is made up of the table officials, a timekeeper, a 24-second operator, an assistant scorer and the table marshal.

Functions of the basketball referee

Functions of the basketball referee

The functions of the referees are wide within the game, but in a simple and summarized way I will tell you that their main function is to enforce the rules through their whistle, they must make decisions quickly in the course of the game so that it develops without major complications and setbacks.

Some of the functions to be highlighted would be the following:

  • Verify that the balls are in perfect condition.
  • Check the state of the lines on the court.
  • Verify the lists of players that will participate in the game.
  • Verify the proper use of the players’ clothing, especially that they have their respective numbers on their jerseys.
  • Place the ball in play.
  • Decide when to stop the action due to a dead ball.
  • Stop the game action when deemed necessary.
  • Penalize players when they commit an infraction.
  • Hear substitutions during the course of the game.
  • Deliver the ball to the players for throw-in.
  • They count the time after a point play for the fulfillment of the time rules such as the 8 seconds of half-court crossing, free kick time, etc….

11 Characteristics of basketball referees

The characteristics, qualities or requirements that a good basketball referee should possess, according to our criteria, should be the following:

  1. Good timing and responsiveness.
  2. Confidence in their work.
  3. Calmness and tranquility in their work.
  4. Consistency.
  5. Good judgment in the game.
  6. Good ability to cooperate.
  7. A thorough knowledge of the rules of the game.
  8. Good presence, activity and physical condition.
  9. Must be punctual.
  10. Do not draw attention to themselves.
  11. Recognize that they are not perfect and can make mistakes.

Possessing these characteristics will guarantee a high quality work at the referee level during each game, which will also help him to obtain prestige within the sector.

Basketball referees’ clothing

Judges’ clothing is usually short-sleeved flannel, generally gray with black stripes on the shoulder pads and sides of the shirts, black pants, sneakers and their whistle.

The jerseys usually change color and design depending on each league, for example in the NBA they use gray jerseys while in the Euroleague they are usually black with orange.

Basketball referee signals

Basketball referee signals

Signals are the form of communication used by basketball referees to communicate with players, coaches and the coaching staff during games.

These signals from basketball referees could be divided into the following points:

Signs for points

These are the basketball referee signals that they use for plays involved with touchdowns, with these signals they can indicate if the play is a one, two or three point play or even if they nullify the play and the points do not count.

Signals for game times

  • Stop the clock: Raise your right arm with open hand and blow your whistle.
  • Stop the clock for a violation or foul: Raise your right arm with a closed fist while your left arm is pulled out in front of you with your palm facing the ground, also blowing your whistle.
  • Resume playing time: They make a movement with the right arm as if they were cutting something.
  • Reset the clock: the right arm stretched upwards while making a circular motion with the finger.

Administrative signals

  • Player change: In these basketball referee signals, you cross your arms in an X shape with them.
  • Awarding a time-out: Both arms are raised, and an index finger is used to try to recreate a T shape.

Signals for fouls

  • Blocking: The hands are placed at waist level.
  • Grasp: The right hand takes the left wrist, which is extended to the front.
  • Technical foul: A T-shape is made with both hands.
  • Unsportsmanlike foul: The left hand takes the right wrist, which is raised.
  • Flagrant foul: Both arms are raised with closed fists.

As you can see, there are different referee signals for each game situation with which the judges indicate their criteria to players, coaches and the technical table.

How many referees are there in a basketball game?

How many referees are there in a basketball game

By official regulation the number of referees that must be present in a basketball game are 2, the main referee and an assistant referee, although the inclusion of a third assistant referee is also allowed, very common nowadays in almost all the leagues the use of 3 judges.

We can also include in this list the table assistants, since they are part of the refereeing team, and they are the ones who record and keep the data of each match.

In the event of a play where the referees have different opinions, the head referee will have the final say.

How much does a basketball referee get paid?

Basketball referees’ salaries or fees vary depending on the league or competition in which they work; as expected, the top leagues will always be the ones that pay the best.

As I always like to make information easier for you, I will show you the figures that some basketball referees charge in different leagues, the amounts would be as follows:

  • In the NBA: A referee in this league earns between $150,000 and $400,000 per season, the most experienced and prestigious referees in the league can earn around $560,000 per season.
  • In the WNBA: The referees in this league earn relatively little, but the work is also minimal, since they are short seasons, here they usually earn about $500 per game or about $16,000 per season.
  • In the ACB: Here, the referees have a base salary of €6,000 per month.
  • In the LEB Gold: They have an average of €500 per game, although additional expenses such as per diem, travel and others must also be added.
  • In FIBA: they earn an average of $200 per game, Fiba pays for accommodation, food and travel expenses.
  • In the Mexican Professional League: They earn about 3,000mxn$ (pesos) per game.

How to become a basketball referee?

Although it sounds trite to become a basketball referee you just have to have the desire and motivation to do it, in theory anyone can do it just must meet the requirements requested by the institution where you are going to apply for the referee accreditation.

This process is not usually complicated, theoretical exams, hours of courses and physical tests, since a referee is always in constant movement on the court.

FIBA is currently issuing licenses for referees which allow them to referee games in international, regional and national competitions. These licenses are issued every 2 years.


Thus, we have reached the end of this wonderful article about basketball referees and everything that represents them, we have seen their qualities, functions, their type of clothing, the basketball refereeing signals they apply in each game and even how much they earn for each game or season.

Undoubtedly a respectable and admirable profession.

Now I would like to know what you thought of this article, let me know in the comments and also ask you to please share this post in your networks to help us keep growing every day!

Esteban Gomes

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