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Basketball Officials

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An official in basketball is a person responsible for spotting any rule violations and enforcing the appropriate penalties. Officials are vitally important to any basketball game, as they help to ensure a level playing field that prevents either team from having an unfair advantage.

Table of Contents

  • The Basics of Refereeing
  • The Role of the Referee Pregame
  • The Main Role of the Referee
  • Responsibilities
  • Equipment
  • How Many Officials are Assigned to Each Game?
  • Replay Review
  • How to Become a Basketball Official
  • FAQ

The Basics of Refereeing

The referee in basketball is like any other referee in sports; he/she must keep order and make sure that all of the rules are followed. They are allowed to call fouls and violations whenever the rules are not followed, and must enforce consequences clearly to keep the game moving.  No matter the call or time of the game, all come from the officials and always fall to the crew chief or senior official if there is a dispute in any way.

The Role of the Referee Pregame

At any level of basketball the referees have some responsibilities that take place before the game begins. They must make sure every uniform is worn correctly and no violations on this front are visible. Also, they will inspect the court, hoops, and game ball to make sure that it is sufficient and ready to be played with and on. The referees usually meet with the team captains to go over any specific items they need to discuss or just general preparations for the game too.

The Main Role of the Referee

The referee’s main job on the basketball court is to administer fouls and calls whenever the rules are not followed. They must do so to the best of their abilities at all times and without any subjective judgement. Travels, double dribbles, fouls, moving screens, and other violations are all going to happen throughout the game, so the referees must stay on top of it all and make sure the game is always played as fairly as possible.  



Basketball officials must perform a number of inspections prior to the start of each game, primarily related to equipment. A few examples include making sure the balls are properly inflated, confirming that each team’s jerseys meet league regulations, checking roster cards for inactive players, and examining the court for any wet spots or other potential slip hazards.


During the game, officials are tasked with calling fouls and violations, keeping track of the game clock and handling disputes from coaches/players. Officials need to remain focused and properly positioned throughout the game, as even the smallest mental lapse can represent the difference between making the right or wrong call.


Officials are easy to spot on the basketball court, donning a white/black striped shirt and slacks. In other leagues, like the NBA, referees will wear a more subtle grey shirt. Each official also has a whistle hanging around their neck, which is used to alert coaches and players that play has been stopped temporarily.

There are three on-court officials assigned to each NBA game. Each official has a different title and set of responsibilities. These three are referred to as the crew chief, referee, and umpire.

Crew Chief

As the name implies, the crew chief is the head of the entire officiating crew. Duties include making a final ruling when other officials disagree and maintaining a strong line of communication with coaches, scorers, and statisticians.


Officials that occupy the referee position primarily handle conduct violations. While referees are well-equipped to call contact fouls and illegal positioning, they are mostly relied upon to settle disputes and hand out technical fouls if a player or coach loses control of their emotions and behaves poorly.


Umpires handle the clock (making sure the timer knows when to pause and restart the game clock due to a stoppage in play) and basic foul calls. For example, the umpire will likely be the official to hand down a ruling when a defensive player makes contact with an opposing shooter.  

Replay Review

Another type of official that is rarely seen on-screen is the replay center official. When a close play occurs and the on-court officials cannot confidently make a ruling in real-time, they often turn to the replay official. The replay official is generally not on-site and has access to several television screens that show the play in slow-motion from a number of different angles. Watching the play unfold frame by frame with a careful eye ultimately allows the replay official to reach the correct verdict, which is relayed to the on-court officials through a headset. Replays are usually needed when the ball goes out of bounds and officials are unsure of which team touched it last (this determines which team gets possession of the ball).

How to Become a Basketball Official

Becoming a basketball official requires an immense amount of both physical and tactical training. Not only must officials be in strong cardiovascular shape so that they can run up and down the court with ease, they also need to develop communication skills and a concrete understanding of how to interpret each of the league’s many rules.  Regardless of the level (high school, college or professional), there is generally a certification course officials must pass in order to be certified to officiate games by the governing league.


How many officials are there in basketball?

In basketball, there are usually three on-court officials. These officials are divided between the crew chief, the referee, and the umpire. While each of these officials are able to call common fouls and determine possession, they will usually be focused on a different set of responsibilities. Additionally, there are also replay officials who review a play through a series of slow motion replays to determine the outcome.

How much do NBA officials get paid?

NBA officials are paid based on their amount of experience in the league. Rookie NBA officials are paid well for their services, with a typical salary sitting at $600 per game they officiate. This equates to roughly $250,000 a year. Meanwhile, veteran officials will make even more. These senior referees often carry more responsibility and will often serve as crew chiefs. On account of their increased importance to the game, veteran officials will often make about $3,500 per game, which comes out to about $500,000 a year. In order to qualify for this pay raise, basketball officials must serve for three to five NBA seasons and demonstrate they are capable of handling increased responsibility. These veteran game officials also tend to officiate the most important games, both in the regular season and playoffs.

What do basketball officials do?

The main responsibility of basketball officials is to make sure that a basketball game is played fairly. While this may seem like a simple task, there are many different factors of the game that officials must monitor. Even before the game starts, officials must make sure that all equipment is in proper order and that no regulations are being violated by either team. During the game, officials are responsible for calling fouls and violations, determining possession, and ensuring that no team is gaining an unfair advantage over another.


Pages Related to Basketball Officials

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Basketball Referee Roles

Home>Sports>Basketball>Basketball Referees


Referees are pivotal in the game of basketball. A bad referee can negatively affect the outcome of a game, while a good referee makes sure the winner is decided fairly. Here is some basic information about a referee’s roles and responsibilities during a basketball game.

Table of Contents

  • Number of Referees In Basketball Games
  • Referee Roles And Responsibilities
  • List of Basketball Officials
  • Basketball Fouls
  • Basketball Violations
  • Basketball Referee Signals
  • FAQ

Number of Referees In Basketball Games

The officials and referees are responsible for interpreting the rulebook and calling fouls and violations in basketball games. There are also referees that oversee statistics, scorekeeping, the game clock and shot clock, replays, and when a player steps out of bounds.

In the NBA, there are seven officials, one crew chief, two referees, one official scorekeeper, two trained timekeepers, and one replay center official. For lower levels of basketball, the number of referees for each game can vary.

Referee Roles And Responsibilities

Referees have lots of responsibilities in a basketball game. These are some of the basic roles and responsibilities shared by on-court officials.

  • Check all game equipment (i.e. hoop, ball, backboard, floor)
  • Ensure the pressure of the ball is between 7.5 pounds and 8.5 pounds
  • Check player's uniforms and remove illegal equipment
  • Checking team roster size and the active list
  • Toss the ball in jump balls
  • Assign possession of the ball on in-bounds passes
  • Giving the ball to free throw shooters and inbounders
  • Calling all fouls and violations
  • Signaling a dead ball by blowing his whistle

List of Basketball Officials

In basketball, there are five different types of officials. Each type of official has specialized roles and responsibilities. The five types of officials are listed below:

  • Crew Chief
  • Referee
  • Scorekeeper
  • Timekeeper
  • Replay Center Official

Basketball Crew Chief

The crew chief is the head official in any group of basketball referees. They always have the final say on a ruling if there is a disagreement between the referees. A crew chief is also responsible for discussing calls with both teams’ head coaches if there is any confusion about a ruling. The crew chief is the most important job in the officiating crew and can have a huge impact on a game. 

Basketball Referee

The referees, also sometimes called umpires, share many of the same responsibilities as the crew chief. They are responsible for calling fouls and violations, whistling dead balls, and giving the ball to free throw shooters and inbounders. The only difference between the crew chief and regular referees is that the crew chief has the final say on a disputed call.

Basketball Scorekeeper

The scorekeeper in basketball is responsible for tracking the scores of both teams, updating the scoreboard, and confirming all scored baskets. They need to pay very close attention to the game to record the correct score, which players have scored, and confirm other statistics with the referees, such as fouls or timeouts. The scorekeeper will sit behind the scorer’s table, which is located on the sideline near center court. 

Basketball Timekeeper

The timekeeper in basketball is in charge of starting and stopping the clocks during gameplay. This includes both the game clock and the shot clock, which makes the job harder than it may seem. The timekeeper also stays in constant contact with the on-court referees and will change the time on the clock if the crew chief deems it necessary.

Basketball Replay Center Official

The replay center official is perhaps the most unique member of the officiating crew because they are not actually located in the arena. The NBA’s replay center is located in Secaucus, New Jersey, and this is where all NBA referee calls are reviewed in real-time. In the replay center, officials can monitor multiple different angles of on-court fouls or violations to ensure they make the right call. 

When a referee is unsure about a call on the floor, they will go over to the scorer’s table and call the NBA replay center to communicate with the replay center official. The replay center official will quickly review footage of the controversial call and communicate the correct decision to the referee or crew chief. 

Basketball Fouls

A foul is a penalty given to a player and team for committing an illegal action towards another player. There are many fouls in basketball, including flagrant fouls, personal fouls, technical fouls, and team fouls. Depending on the situation, fouls can result in the opposing team being awarded free throws. Referees are responsible for calling fouls when they happen on the court.

Basketball Violations

A violation is a type of penalty called for violating basic rules of the game, like dribbling illegally or timing mistakes. Violations are viewed as less severe than fouls and do not result in free throws. Referees are responsible for calling violations when they happen on the court. 

A referee will blow their whistle and make a signal with their arms when a foul or violation is called. They also use hand signals to communicate made shots, changes of possession, or to start the clock. There are lots of referee signals in basketball, which are necessary for referees to communicate with other referees, coaches, and players in an effective manner. When referees huddle up to discuss a call, it slows down the game and can ruin a game’s flow and rhythm.


How many referees are there in basketball?

In the NBA, there are three referees on the court at all times: the crew chief and two assistant referees. The crew chief is the leader of the two assistant referees, also known as the umpires. There are also three other officials present at every game: the scorekeeper, timekeeper, and the replay center official.

What are the types of officials in basketball?

The five types of officials in basketball are the crew chief, referees, scorekeepers, timekeepers, and replay center officials. The crew chief and referees serve as the on-court officials who monitor gameplay and make rulings. The scorekeeper keeps track of the official score, while the timekeeper is in charge of the game clock and shot clock. The replay center official aids the crew chief when there is a disputed call that needs to be confirmed by instant replay.

What does a referee do?

The main responsibility of a referee is to call foul and violations, whistle dead balls, and give the ball to inbounders and free throw shooters. Referees are sometimes called umpires and the crew chief is a head referee who has the final say if there is a disputed call. Referees and crew chiefs have different responsibilities than scorekeepers, timekeepers, and replay center officials.  


Pages Related to Basketball Referee Roles

  • Basketball Official Statistician
  • Basketball Crew Chief
  • Basketball Rules
  • 13 Original Basketball Rules
  • Basketball 1 And 1
  • Basketball Official Scorer


Refereeing in basketball


  • Historical development

  • Rules

  • Material support

  • Judging

  • Technique

  • Tactics

  • Education and training

  • Choosing a basketball

Basketball: judges on the court and the panel of judges.

Basketball matches are officiated by referees. The brigade consists of experienced judges with a clear knowledge of the rules of refereeing and having many years of experience. Judges are guided not only by the postulates of the prescribed rules. The referee is obliged to use common sense in assessing the situation, taking into account the mood and attitude towards the game by the teams.

It's not right to judge professionals and beginners the same way. Newcomers to the game often make many technical mistakes. Only fixing all such errors will greatly slow down the whole game. The fundamental principles in adjudicating rule violations are the basis for building a cohesive game.

The referee must not pause the game unless clearly necessary. Any aggression and rudeness on the court should be stopped immediately, but a player should not be punished with a foul for unintentional contact, especially if it does not give any advantage in a particular game situation. The integrity and direct course of the game depends on the actions and skills of the referee.

The team of referees serving a professional basketball match must include:

Chief referee and site referees.

Two or three referees serve the game to fix errors on the court. They have quite broad powers. The chief referee makes significant decisions on the compliance of equipment, equipment, players' uniforms with the requirements of the rules. In case of serious violations, the Chief Referee may count the defeat. Referees start their duties 20 minutes before the start of the match. During the match, the referees clearly adhere to the rules. The decisions of colleagues are not questioned. The service of the game by the judges on the site is stopped by the sound of the siren.

Secretary and his assistant.

The Secretary is responsible for the correct keeping of the score sheet. Through it, coaches submit applications for participation in the game, containing the data of the players. The maximum number of players per team cannot exceed 12 (5 main and 7 substitutes). Fixing the game score, interacting with the teams if a substitution or timeout is necessary, these are the main duties of the Secretary.

The scorer can only address the referee in a dead ball situation. Control over the number of fouls is also assigned to the Secretary. He brings this information to the judges and teams.


A basketball timekeeper must know the referees' gestures well and know the rules of the game. He is obliged to turn on and stop time on the scoreboard in a timely manner, guided by the gestures of the referees (whistle), as well as independently making a decision when putting the ball into play, declared a time-out, breaks, controversial or free throws. In the last quarter, 2 minutes before the end of playing time, the timekeeper stops the countdown after each effective throw.

Shot clock operator.

The main function of the shot clock operator is to enforce the 24 second time rules. It turns on the timer every time the team gets possession of the ball and turns it off when the ball goes out of bounds. The timer is reset after a successfully completed attack or loss of ball control by the team. The timekeeper must reset the possession time to 14 seconds in a situation where a foul is committed on the team in possession of the ball or the ball is taken by the attacking team after an unsuccessful attempt to hit the ring. In this case, the ball must touch the ring itself, and the stopwatch must have any number less than fourteen seconds.

The basic gestures of a basketball referee can be divided into groups in order of importance to the player:

Official basketball referee gestures related to infractions

IMPORTANT! These violations result only in the loss of the ball, without any effect on personal and team fouls.

  • Fist rotation - jog

  • Movement of the palms of both hands up and down - double guidance

  • Half rotation of the palm - carrying the ball

  • Finger pointing at the foot - Intentional foot play

  • Front hand swing with two fingers - ball returned to the backcourt

  • Swinging from the bottom up with an outstretched hand with 3 fingers - 3 seconds

  • Show 5 fingers - 3 seconds

  • Show 8 fingers - 8 seconds

  • Finger touching shoulder - 24 seconds

Official basketball referee gestures related to types of fouls

Fouls are punished for an unauthorized action by a player in relation to another individually, as opposed to violations.

  • Wrist interception below - delay

  • Palm grip and forward movement - hold with hands

  • Both hands on hips - blocking (defensively) or improper screening (offensive)

  • Imitation of pushing - pushing or impinging a player without the ball

  • Wrist hit - misuse of hands

  • Punching to the open hand - Collision of the player with the ball

  • Striking with the hand on the other forearm - incorrect contact in the arm

  • Movement of the elbow to the side - excessive swinging of the elbow

  • The fingers of one hand are clenched into a fist, followed by an indication of the number of free throws - foul in the act of throwing

  • The fingers of one hand are clenched into a fist, followed by an indication of the floor - foul not in the process of throwing

  • Simulated head contact - blow to the head

  • Pointing the fist in the direction of the offending team's basket - foul to the team in control of the ball

Official Basketball Referee Signals, Substitutions and Time Out Signals

  • Crossed forearms in front of the chest - replacement for

  • Wave towards yourself with the palm of the outstretched hand - invitation to the playground

  • Palm and index finger form the letter T - timeout requested

  • Arms to the sides with clenched fists - media timeout

Official Basketball referee gestures, scoring gestures

  • Raised hand raise one finger, lower the hand down - 1 point

  • Raised hand raise two fingers, lower the hand down - 2 points

  • Raised hand with three fingers (attempted throw) or raised both hands with three fingers (successful throw) - 3 points

Official basketball referee gestures, informative gestures

  • Single bringing and spreading of the hands in front of the chest - cancellation of a hit or play action

  • Countdown with open hand movement - Visible Countdown

  • Thumb Up - Interaction

  • Wrist rotation over head with extended index finger - reset shot clock

  • Hand with index finger extended parallel to the touchline - Direction of throw-in and/or throw-in

  • Thumbs up of both hands followed by directions - V-ball or throw situation

Official basketball referee gestures, player numbering gestures

  • Right hand display of numbers from 1 to 5 - from #1 to #5

  • Showing the number 5 with the right hand, and with the left hand from 1 to 5 - from No. 6 to No. 10

  • The right hand is clenched into a fist, the left hand shows the numbers from 1 to 5 - from #11 to #15

  • First, showing the number for tens with the outside of the brush, then with the palm of the hand the number 0 for units - 40

  • First, showing the numbers for tens with the outside of the brush, then with the palm of the hand, the numbers for units - 62

Official Basketball Referee Signals, Special Fouls

  • Movement with crossed arms with fists overhead - mutual foul

  • Palms form the letter T - technical foul

  • Interception of the wrist with a clenched fist at the top - unsportsmanlike foul

  • Both hands up with clenched fists - disqualifying foul

Official basketball referee gestures related to the game clock

  • Open palm up - stop watch

  • One fist above head - stop clock on foul

  • Hand down chopping motion - clock activation


  • Historical development

  • Rules

  • Material support

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gestures of referees in basketball, how they work, how many referees in a basketball game

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Danila Chezhin

Referees are the most important part of the basketball action. Sometimes the fate of the match depends on refereeing decisions. Although it is better, of course, when they are not particularly noticeable - due to high-quality work, remaining in the shadow of basketball players and coaches. Let's analyze the main elements of basketball refereeing, what gestures the referee uses and how the functionality is distributed between the chief referees and his assistants.

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Referees in a basketball game

Referee team working on the basketball court consists of three people - the main referee and two assistants. The duties of the chief referee include decisions regarding the regulations. Before the start of the match, he checks the uniforms of the teams, the layout of the site, the location of the benches, and so on for compliance with the rules. In case of violations of the regulations, it is the chief referee who decides to cancel the match and forfeit defeat.

Directly on the site, the referee team works as a single unit. That is, the leader has no priority in fixing violations over assistants, even formally. When the referees' vision of the situation differs, a dropped ball is assigned, and under certain circumstances, a video review, as is customary in modern basketball.

Referees working on the court, judges in basketball are not limited. A number of referees during the game at the referee's table:

  1. The secretary and his assistant keep the match protocol, where absolutely everything is recorded - the course of the meeting in terms of scoring points, the authors of effective throws, the number of personal comments. The secretary also interacts with the coaches of the teams - through him they transmit information about the substitutions in the line-up, time-outs, the number of fouls.
  2. Timekeeper. The referee who monitors compliance with the time limit. Basketball is a game where the outcome is often decided not even in minutes, but in seconds, so the work of a timekeeper is very important. "Arbiter on the clock" independently turns on and stops the game time counter. The timekeeper immediately informs the referees about the mistakes made in adjusting the time of the match.
  3. Shot clock operator. Along with the referee for regular time, there is also a 24-second counter operator in the refereeing team - so much in basketball is allocated for the attack of the ring. If the team failed to bring possession to the throw for this segment, a siren sounds and the ball goes to the opponent. This arbitrator monitors compliance with this rule.
  4. Video View Judge. With the development of technology, another referee appeared in the judging team - responsible for video viewing. It is his responsibility to provide the judges on the court with the necessary video and monitor to view it when the situation requires it.

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Basketball Referee Gestures

Understanding referee decisions requires knowing the basics of basketball refereeing gestures. Basketball referee gestures are unified for all professional competitions. The full set of gestures that guide basketball can be found in the rules of the game - the section on gestures in the overseas NBA code and in European FIBA ​​is almost the same. Here are the most important gestures.

  1. Scoring gestures: 1 finger raised means one point; 2 fingers - 2 points; 3 fingers - 3 points.
  2. Fixing a foul - a fist raised up. Next, the referee shows the player's number on his fingers and gestures about the type of violation. For example, both hands on the hip - blocking or incorrect setting of the screen, grabbing the wrist - holding, imitation of a push with both palms - illegal contact with an opponent.
  3. Other violations. Rotation of the hands - a jog, pointing a finger to the foot - playing with the foot, movement of the hand with three fingers raised - violation of the rules of three seconds.
  4. Referee's arms crossed announcing substitution; a palm covering the top of the index finger indicates a timeout taken by one of the teams.

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