How much does a nba referee make? On Thursday, the NBA and National Basketball Referees Association agreed to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement that will run through the summer of 2029. Details in the new deal won’t be made public, per the league’s policy.
The league wants peace between the refs and its players, something that’s become an issue, particularly in recent years; Golden State Warriors four-time All-Star Draymond Green went as far as to say that refs are “ruining the game” back in 2018.
But consider this: There are more than 1,700 regular-season games and 160 playoff games. These professionals have an extremely rigorous travel schedule, the tiniest room for error, and deal with constant berating from fans and players alike. That got us thinking: How much do NBA refs make, anyway?
Simply put, it isn’t as easy as it may look — let’s examine where NBA referee salary standards stood before the new agreement.
How much do NBA referees make?
Believe it or not, NBA referees make a pretty decent living and are actually one of the higher-paid officials in American sports. Of course, they don’t make nearly as much as the players, but they do also get benefits such as health insurance, travel stipends, and retirement plans. On average, refs get paid anywhere from $250,000 to $550,000 a season.
There are three levels of income when you’re an NBA referee, and the pay is based on years of experience and performance. When you’re a rookie, the wages start at $600 per game, which translates to $250,000 a season. Then after being around the league for three to five seasons, referees can make $3,000 a game, which is clearly way more than what rookie referees make. The highest paid refs made $550,000 last season, and as per Boardroom are the following:
- Ken Mauer
- Tom Washington
- Scott Foster
- Tony Brothers
- Sean Corbin
- James Capers
- Rodney Mott
- Marc Davis
- Pat Fraher
- Eric Lewis
The wages of an NBA referee increase during the postseason
Not all referees are eligible to officiate games in the playoffs. With over 72 refs working in the 2022-2023 season, only a few are handpicked to be in games where the intensity is on a different level. And no matter how impressive a rookie is in his or her first season, the postseason is reserved for folks with more than five years of experience.
The rate per game jumps from $3,000 in the regular season to $10,000 in the first two rounds. In the semifinals and finals, a ref can make $29,000 a game.
How Much Do NBA Referees Get Paid?
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how much NBA referees make, recent projections place their annual salaries at between $180,000 and $550,000. Other estimates show that new referees earn a base salary of about $250,000. When these officials first enter the league, they earn a salary closer to the lower end of this estimate, with their wages increasing the longer they remain in it. Career Explorer Guide postulates that referee salaries rise by $30,000 per game during finals.
NBA referee salaries have increased steadily over the years. In 1983, NBA officials earned between $18,000 and $80,000 a season. The figures rose to between $72,000 and $177,000 in 1994 and a starting wage of $91,000 in 2009. Consequently, NBA refereeing is becoming more lucrative with time, which can be a motivating factor for people wishing to join the profession.
Referees in the WNBA earn about $425 per game or $180,000 per season – a significantly lower figure than that of NBA officials. This pay difference is also evident among players and is primarily due to the differing market sizes for the NBA and WNBA.
NBA Referee Vs. NBA Player Salaries
But while NBA referees make a sizable income, it does not come close to what NBA players earn. In fact, it is way lower than what even rookies make. Per the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookie NBA players cannot earn less than $898,310. This amount increases as the player spends more time with the league. Consequently, many NBA players earn way more than these, with some of the greatest names in the business taking home $40 million per season.
Among officials, pay is also determined by status. Entry level referees earn about $600 for every game, and this amount also increases the longer they stay in the league. All referees also receive benefits, such as retirement plans, insurance, and travel expenses.
Famous NBA Referees
Just as some notable NBA basketball players earn more than others, there is a select group of NBA referees who earn more than their counterparts due to gaining some level of celebrity status. These officials are so popular that their presence on the court can lead to speculations about certain aspects of the game. In this group, are notable names like Sean Corbin, James Capers, and Scott Foster.
This senior level of refereeing in the NBA can be attained by working with the league for between three and five years. This distinction earns referees about $3,500 for every game they officiate and an annual salary of approximately $500,000. Additionally, they qualify for the opportunity to officiate postseason games where they can make up to $5,000 for every game.
How much will NBA referees earn for the 2023-24 season?
Like most jobs in the United States, the salary of NBA referees is based on both seniority and performance.
As per the National Basketball Referees Association, league officials make an average of $180,000 to $550,000 a year.
The entry-level salary of NBA referees runs around $250,000 per year or $600 per game. Seasoned or professional referees, meanwhile, earn a lot higher, around $3,500 per game or $550,000 per annum.
Additional compensation is given if a referee gets to officiate in a playoff game. They can usually earn $800 to $5,000 per postseason game. But not all referees can whistle in playoff matches as these are usually reserved for those with more than five years of experience and are traditionally handpicked.
Apart from monetary compensation, NBA referees, too, get other benefits, which include health insurance, travel allowances and retirement plans.
The NBA has recommended that aspiring referees should fully know their craft.
Officiating high school games is a good start. It is where they can learn the rules of the game and gain experience.
After refereeing in high school, they can move on to register and eventually call games in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Prospective officials are asked to take a basketball officiating exam to gauge their know-how. If they pass, they can begin calling in Divisions 2 and 3 and progressing to Division 1 games, where they can further develop their skills amid large crowds and increased pressure.
They can then proceed to the NBA G League, where they can be positioned for an eventual career in the NBA. While NBA referees are not required to start in the G League, being part of the developmental league, however, helps as The Association traditionally hires those from the G League roster of referees.
Once they make it to the NBA, they are expected to represent the league as best as possible by being knowledgeable, fair and honest.
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