This season, Slovenian Top Referee Damir Javor had the best season of his life in terms of nominations: in May, he officiated the memorable Euroleague Final Game between CSKA and Fenerbahçe that went into overtime. In August, he traveled to Rio for the Olympics, and lately, he worked an NBA Global Game between Barcelona and OKC.
Referee Mindset brings you an exclusive interview with him.
We had the chance to meet Mr Javor before a EuroBasket qualifier.
Arriving in his suit hours before the game, he turns on his laptop to enhance his pre-game conference: not only does he verbally prepare the crew, but also with videos and presentations to be on the same page with his colleagues.
However, this is not a one-sided lecture, as Mr Javor, that day’s crew chief interactively involved his colleagues: a modern pre-game is about cooperation and asking each other’s vision.
When it comes to pre-game preparation, he takes all of his games with the same serious and professional approach as the Euroleague Finals.
THE 2016 EUROLEAGUE FINAL FOUR
That is why – he begins – it wasn’t a difficult task for him to prepare specifically for the Final Four games.
“Generally, I think about things that would normally cross the mind of any official: the teams, the competition, the arena, the travel conditions and other details.”
The key is that your mental preparation should include your partners: “Great officiating is the result of a team effort that roots from the willingness to achieve success together.”
MODERN COMMUNICATION WITH PLAYERS
Basketball is an emotional game. A modern official can’t just disallow the players to have emotions, yet (s)he needs to keep them under control.
Many of the readers might be familiar with the NBA’s “Referees Wired” series. At first, the way how American refs talk often and aloud might seem a bit different for European referees, and Mr Javor shares his view:
“I think in the NBA the officials are great communicators. For example, in an out-of-bounds play, when you shout loudly: ‘Out of bounds! White ball!’, you already did two great things to manage the game. Firstly, you disallowed the players to make comments by you making the first one. Moreover, you let everyone know that you have this call under control. The players and the spectators should see:
This referee knows what’s going on!
As an official, nowadays, you are entrusted with having an interaction with players/coaches when they approach you in a respectful manner. However, no surprise that it is often not the case, but Mr Javor wishes to remind everyone about one fundamental fact:
“Players and coaches are not our enemies.”
Vice versa, we are no enemies of them! Having conversations with players can ease the tension, but the referee must know when and how to talk. His/her voice should be calming everyone down.
When a player comes at you screaming and shouting, don’t immediately answer his/her question. Instead, I always ask:
“Why are you shouting? I’m a friend, not an enemy!”
Once the atmosphere is calmer, you can talk about the particular play.
MENTAL TOUGHNESS – A KEY TO BE A GREAT REF
When we asked how he dealt with the pressure that comes with the Euroleague Finals, let alone the 12,000 spectators and millions watching on TV, Mr Javor believes that the official has to have mental toughness.
This mental toughness can only come from the inside.
Earlier, NBA legend Joe Crawford talked about on-and-off court referee personalities, and Mr Javor could only add to our vision:
“As a referee, to improve your mental toughness, this toughness should be present in all parts of your life: not only in basketball but also in your personal life. My mental toughness stems from this approach.”
Obviously, mental strength comes with the experience, too – he continues. “The more hard games you officiate, the stronger you should become. Likewise, the trust from the nominators should add to your confidence.”
Further on, Mr Javor is no short of sharing more pieces of advice on how to become a stronger ref:
“If you know the rules really well, if you think about basketball all the time, if you also play it and watch your colleagues referee games: these will all help you to be much stronger.”
Becoming a mentally sharp referee is not a cleared, straight highway: all these little things are part of a mosaic that should add up. Just like mental toughness is one part of the puzzle on the road to be the best referee you can be.
HONESTY AND BASKETBALL KNOWLEDGE
Besides being mentally tough, Mr Javor emphasized two other characteristics of a good referee:
Basketball knowledge as a game. You have to understand what they are trying to do. It makes it easier to expect things and prepare to officiate them. When there’s a pick-n-roll or a screen, you should know and expect where each player is trying to move. The game will become easier for you to officiate.
Honesty with each team. Regardless the team’s name, the gym or anything else. A basketball court is always a basketball court. Five players against five, and this fact should always be respected.
TOP FIBA REFEREE WITH NBA EXPERIENCE – QUOTES
2014 NBA SUMMER LEAGUE AND 2015 AFROBASKET
Aside from officiating numerous Euroleague and FIBA International games, he also learned from NBA referees: in 2014, Mr Javor participated in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, working among others with NBA Senior Vice President of Replay and Referee Operations Joe Borgia and 2016 NBA finals officials Marc Davis, Ed Malloy and Zach Zarba.
“It is a different approach from NBA referees to the game which makes the Summer League interesting to visit. You can learn a lot from the comments. Every day we had lectures done by Mr Toliver and officiated some local games. When the Summer League started each of us officiated two quarters of a game. I got really nice experience there.”
Mr Javor also got the chance to work some African games:
“If I can mention one interesting tournament, it was last year’s AfroBasket in Tunisia. It was a great experience to learn about the African style of basketball with so many diversities between the teams and also referees. That was one of the greatest experiences ever, too.”
2016 RIO OLYMPICS
“Prior to the Olympic Games, we had a special pre-tournament clinic to make everybody have the same approach. All in all, in FIBA refereeing there are no big differences on a worldwide scale. If I can mention one great experience: it was the Argentina vs Brazil game. These two teams and the crowd put so much devotion and emotion into the arena that I think it was one of the best games ever on a basketball floor.”
BARCELONA vs OKLAHOMA NBA GLOBAL GAME
“It was a great honor for me that Euroleague had nominated me for such a great event. The atmosphere was really great and everybody around the game was really excited. I worked the game with NBA referees John Goble and Matt Boland.
Cooperation during the game for me was not so hard because I was in 2014 in an NBA Summer camp in Las Vegas and over there I have learned mechanics and signals of NBA officiating. Also during the season I manage to catch some NBA games on TV where I study NBA mechanics so I was pretty familiar with that.”
OWN CHALLENGES AND A MESSAGE FOR YOUNG REFEREES
When asked about his present challenges as a referee, he separates short-term and long-term goals:
His short-term goal is always to prepare for and do well at the very next game.
In the long run, he believes all top referees must keep up with the basketball and also refereeing evolution by working hard both physically and mentally.
Being a top referee takes a lot of sacrifices, a lot of personal things to give up, however, Mr Javor has a message for all:
“Hard work can take you to the stars!
– and I know it from myself. And… don’t be in a hurry, go step by step.”
As a final question, we asked him to share anything he finds important to tell young referees. He finished the interview with an inspirational message (not only for referees):
“Even though refereeing might have a bad reputation as a profession, I’m telling you: it is a wonderful thing.
You travel, you meet new friends. It is hard being away from home often, but at the end of the day, refereeing is a great thing to do in your life. When you finish your career, you will have friends everywhere in the world.
Furthermore, it builds you on and off the court. You can become a better person.”
This interview was brought to you by Peter Praksch,
edited by Dávid Szőts,
proud members of the Referee Mindset Team.
Thank you, Damir!