Basketball Refereeing, Decoding Basketball Referee Signals [2023]

Basketball Refereeing

In basketball, there is a basketball refereeing team made up of a timekeeper, scorer, table marshal, and basketball referee. The basketball referee plays a more significant role in the game.

A referee’s primary responsibility is to ensure that players follow the rules as per the basketball rulebook during the game. Basketball refereeing is a profession having many aspects, but in this article, we‘ll only focus on basketball referee hand signals, basketball referee duties, referee training, etc. But first, discuss what does a referee do?

What Does A Referee Do? 

 A basketball referee is a person who is responsible for officiating a game or competition according to basketball rules. They start and end the game, keep track of the time, and make calls for fouls and violations. 

They also resolve any complaints or disagreements. Further, referees also inspect the sports equipment to ensure it meets the required standards.

A basketball referee should possess the following characteristics to conduct basketball refereeing in a better way.

  • Thorough knowledge of basketball rules.
  • Confident about his decisions.
  • Calm and responsive.
  • Cooperative with other basketball officials.

Basketball Refereeing Responsibilities

The basketball referee has multiple duties and responsibilities that primarily lie in the following three specific areas.

Basketballs: A referee has various responsibilities regarding the possession of a basketball during a basketball game. They start the game by tossing the ball up for a jump ball.

They also decide which team will get the ball for throw-ins and hand over the ball to the shooter for free throws. They’re also responsible for restarting the game when the ball goes out of bounds.

Equipment: Basketball referees inspect the equipment and basketball court to make sure they meet the required standards. 

Fouls and Violations: The referees stop the game when a foul or violation occurs. They indicate the type of foul or violation using hand signals and also determine the penalty against the team or players if a second violation occurs.

How to Confidently Carry Out Responsibilities

Basketball refereeing is a job where a referee has to face confrontations due to the decisions or calls he makes. It’s a crucial part of basketball referee training to make confident decisions and display body language that supports his decisions. 

Even if a referee is not certain about the correctness of his calls, he must maintain confidence to preserve credibility for future calls. In cases where the players or coaches complain unnecessarily, he can punish the argumentative behavior by issuing technical fouls.

How to Become a Basketball Referee

You can become a professional basketball referee by considering the following procedure.

  • If you want to become a referee in any league, the minimum requirement is to earn a high school diploma. Additionally, if you have an experience with a high school basketball team, it will enhance your value as a candidate.
  • After earning a high school diploma, you can contact with local association for high school athletics. To become a certified high school basketball referee, you must pass both a written rule test and floor test in addition to undergoing an interview and background check. 
  • After passing the test, you will receive referee training either online or in-person, depending on the specific requirement of your state.
  • In the next step of your career, you can apply to become a college referee by registering with the NCAA. If your dream is to become an NBA referee, you will need to work with the NBA’s G League and demonstrate high-level expertise in the field to be considered as a candidate for NBA referee.

In addition to the conventional way, you can also become a professional referee by joining the National Association of Sports Officials. They provide proper training to help you develop the skills to become a good referee.

Besides, FIBA issues a license for referees, which allows them to officiate games in regional, national, and international competitions. This license is issued every 2 years.

Basketball Refereeing and Basketball Referee Hand Signals 

In basketball refereeing, basketball referee hand signals are the way of communication used to inform the crowd, coaches, scorer’s table, and the players about what’s happening on the court. If you’re not familiar with these hand signals, you may get confused while watching basketball.

There are 25 basketball referee hand signals that can be categorized into the following groups.

Violation Signals

When a player conducts a violation, the referee blows his whistle and raises his open hand in the air to stop that action. There are 11 types of violation signals. Some important violation signals are:

  • Traveling Violation. When players illegally move their feet, a referee signals this by moving both of his arms in a circle in front of him.
  • Double dribble. When a player commits a double dribble violation by dribbling again after picking up the ball. The referee signals this by moving his hands up and down with palms facing downwards.
  • Jump ball. When players from both teams have possession of the basketball simultaneously, the referee signals this by raising both thumbs up above his head.
  • Kick. In this, a referee points towards his feet to indicate a violation called when a player intentionally kicks the basketball.

Fouling Signals

When a foul occurs, the referee blows his whistle and raises one closed hand in the air. The referee has different signals for each type of foul. 

  • Blocking Foul. The referee signals a blocking foul by placing both hands on his hips.
  • Charging Foul. The referee signals this by making a fist of one hand and striking the open palm of the other hand as if punching it.
  • Hand checking foul. A referee swiftly chops one hand across his opposite wrist.
  • Holding foul. The referee grasps the left wrist with their right hand, extending it to the front.
  • Pushing foul. The referee extends both arms outwards and makes a pushing motion with their hands.
  • Elbow foul. The official swings their elbow.
  • Flagrant Foul. The official raises both arms with closed fists.
  • Technical Foul. The letter “T” is made with both hands.

Besides these basic signals, there are also signals for scoring points, starting and ending the game, and administrative signals.

Basketball Referee Uniform

Basketball referees usually wear black and white striped shirts, black pants, and black basketball refereeing shoes. In the NBA and WNBA, they wear light gray colored shirts with white stripes while FIBA league referees wear gray shirt with black sleeves.

Additionally, they always have a loud whistle around their necks, which they use to blow and signal a foul or violation to stop the game. Overall, the referee’s uniform and the whistle are the necessary equipment for officiating a basketball game effectively.

Basketball Referee Salary

The referee’s salary depends on which league or competition they’re officiating. No doubt, the top leagues pay the best. Here is the approximate salary which they get in different leagues.

NBA: In the NBA, the referee earns between $150,000 to $400,000 in salary per season. This amount may increase to $560,000 per season for a more experienced referee. 

WNBA: The WNBA has short seasons therefore, the referees earn relatively less in salary per season which is approximately $16,000.

FIBA: The approximate salary is $200 per game. Additionally, FIBS bears their food, accommodation, and travel expenses.

Mexican Professional League: They earn around 3,000mxn$ for each game.

ACB: The referee receives €6,000 per month as a base salary.

LEB Gold: Here referees receive an approximate of €500 per game. 


Jump ball, personal foul, and points scored are some basic basketball referee hand signals.

A referee uses nine informational signals in basketball.

As basketball is a highly competitive game, typically there are two referees in a basketball game to ensure that decisions are fair and undisputed.

He must have a through knowledge of the game, positive attitude, confidence, and good eyesight.


In conclusion, basketball refereeing is an admirable profession. It’s more than managing the game by hand signals and enforcing basketball rules. It is not only about making calls on fouls and violations but also carries responsibilities to make sure that everyone, including players, coaches, and spectators stays safe and the game is fair. 

The basketball referee’s hand signals are the universal language while basketball refereeing on the court, so a referee must know about the hand signals and their meaning and when to make them. Likewise, to enjoy the game it’s equally important for players, coaches, and fans to understand the basketball referee’s hand signals. 

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