NBA Referee Salary 2023: How Much Do NBA Refs Make?

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NBA Referee, Scott Foster holding his whistle. Photo credit to Michael Gonzales/NBAE Getty Images

NBA referees are paid around $250,000 per year when they have just started refereeing in the NBA, which comes to around $600 a game. More seasoned referees make up to $550,000 per year, which is around $3500 per game.

After hours of research, I found out how much NBA referees truly make, and I’ve broken it completely down into this article. 

In this article, I’ll discuss the payment structure, how referee pay is affected in the postseason, a referee scandal that shocked the NBA, and much more!

The Payment Structure Broken Down

There are two types of payment structures given to referees: higher, which is normally given to veteran referees and lower, which is given to newer referees, also known as rookies.

Rookie referees are paid a staggering $600 per game, which is roughly $250,000 a year. The referees, even at entry level, are paid very handsomely, and after 3-5 years of refereeing in the NBA, it would rise up to around $500,000 each year. 

Veteran or seasoned referees make more than double that of rookie referees. A veteran referee makes $3500 per game, which equates to $550,000 a year. According to Statista, the minimum annual salary for an NBA player is $1.1 million, which almost makes NBA referees seem underpaid even though they make much more than the average person.

Do NBA Referees Make More in the Postseason?

NBA referees make almost more than triple what they would normally make in the postseason. A referee would typically make $3500 a game in regular-season games, but it jumps up to $10,000 a game in the first two rounds of the playoffs. A referee can make an astounding $29,000 a game during semifinal and final games.

With the NBA having more than 70 referees, it’s difficult to allow every referee to officiate in the playoffs, so the NBA only allows veteran referees to officiate the postseason games. Refs with less than 5 years of experience would not be called up to officiate these games, regardless of how great they refereed in the regular season, even if they followed all the rules in the rulebook.

How Many NBA Referees Are There in Total?

According to Basketball Reference, there are a total of 77 referees for the 2023-2024 season. This is an increase from the previous year, which saw 75 referees in the season, but this could be attributed to the in-season tournament introduced this season, which would require more referees.

The two new referees who joined the NBA referee roster as announced by the NBA are Intae Hwang and Sha’Rae Mitchell, who were both called up to the NBA after working in the G league for a few years.

The NBA Referee Scandal

Tim Donaghy smirking during an NBA game. Photo credit to Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

One of the most shocking things that came out of the NBA in 2007 was that seasoned referee Tim Donaghy was fixing games. He was exposed to betting on games that he was working on and taking cash payoffs from gamblers after pleading guilty to two charges of conspiracy.

Donaghy alleged that there were threats made against him by the mob, and they threatened to hurt his family if he didn’t give them accurate gambling picks for matches that he officiated. This was disproven at a later point in his sentencing.

Once all was said and done, Donaghy was sentenced on July 29, 2008 to 15 months in prison for his involvement. He has since been released and lives a quiet life. He owns several rental properties and referees at Major League Wrestling these days, but many still wonder if games are fixed, especially since referees are given more power each season.

Famous NBA Referees

The most infamous referee that currently works in the NBA is Scott Foster. Foster was under scrutiny again after having an altercation with nine-time All-Star Chris Paul and ejecting him from the game. In just the span of a minute, he handed out three technical fouls to Chris Paul and Steve Kerr. Paul has lost 13 straight playoff games under Foster’s officiating.

Foster had a dislike for a player, but Tony Brothers had a dislike for an entire organization. There’s strong discussion within the NBA community that Brothers has a hatred for the Boston Celtics and often calls more fouls on them.

How Much Do WNBA Referees Make?

WNBA referees make $425 per game, which comes up to roughly $180,000 per season, which is substantially less than even rookie referees in the NBA. The pay difference comes down to the fact that the NBA has much higher revenue each year compared to the WNBA, and the overall fanbase is much stronger in the NBA.

Are There Any Pros That Turned Into Refs?

Yes. There are three referees who were once NBA players but then turned into NBA officials. Leon Wood, Haywoode Workman, and Bernie Fryer all played in the NBA but remarkably made the jump to refereeing. Many people question why they did this to begin with since their earning potential is significantly lower than when they played in the league.

Final Thoughts

So how much do NBA refs make? The average NBA referee makes a lot more than the average person, and that is roughly $500,000 per year. A rookie ref could make $250,000 compared to a referee like Scott Foster, who makes $550,000 per year.

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Hi, This is Daniel's Sports Blog. I have been a Sports Fan for as long as I can remember and have grown up watching all types of sports including Basketball, Soccer, Football, Wrestling (WWE specifically), amongst many more! I have not only been watching sports but I have also been competing in a range of sports and I bring my skills and experiences to writing this blog so I can help other sports fanatics understand and appreciate the art of sports.

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