Secrets of the Most Thankless N.B.A. Job: Referee

Secrets of the Most Thankless N.B.A. Job: Referee

How does it feel when your call is overturned?

When you are clearly wrong, and now that has been overturned, you feel a sense of relief. We try to take the ego out of it. Your job is to be a steward of the game.

Do superstars get more leeway?

I would disagree and go the other way and I would say that the majority of superstar players in our league don’t get all the calls and don’t get as many whistles as they deserve.

They would agree with you.

They would agree, correct. They actually finish a lot of plays at the rim and are so strong and so fast — and the hand is quicker than the eye — that there are things you go back and later on, you go: “Wow, you know what? He did get fouled.”

Is there a good story you have from your time as a referee?

It must have been my first year in the league. My “welcome to the N.B.A.” moment. I’m reffing a Lakers game and it’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe in 2003, 2004, was younger and brash. He was chasing a legacy. He was a great player and intense. I remember there was one game and Kobe asked about a play. He thought he got fouled on the elbow shooting a jumper. He barked about it.

The culture of the N.B.A. is that, for us, if a play in question happens in the first half, you can kind of go in at halftime, look at the play, you can come back and either tell them, “Yeah, you were right,” or “No, you were wrong.” Sure enough, Kobe got fouled and I missed the play, and it should’ve been a foul.

When you tell a player and you drop your guard and say, “Hey, I missed that play,” 90 percent of the time the player is going to say: “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ll get the next one.” That’s the kind of working environment. I come back out and walk up to Kobe and say: “Kobe, you were right. You did get hit on the elbow.” He looked dead at me and I’m expecting a pat on the butt or whatever. He looked at me stone-faced and said, “Get it together.”

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