Life as an NBA Referee – Interview with Pat Fraher

I plan to bring you a couple of the biggest names of the industry to see how they think and what they do to be better every day. Making an interview always results in even more questions. I promise I will fill the gap, just ask your questions in the comments section below.

It’s always fascinating to talk to top referees. Here is another piece for you guys, taste it mindfully.

Pat Fraher NBA refereePlease tell us about your background. When did you start officiating? How was the road to NBA?

I started refereeing at 15 years old, with my father. My first game was an 8th grade game, or 1 year younger than I was at the time. I did my first High School varsity game at 17, one year younger than the players.  I did HS ball for a couple years before going to referee summer camps at 19. After being in the right place at the right time (a camp game involving 9 technicals and 5 ejections), I was hired into the CBA (Continental Basketball Association) at 20 years old. I spent 7 years in the CBA, with the last 4 years also splitting time with WNBA as well before getting hired in the NBA in 2001.

How should we imagine the life as an NBA referee?

Busy. Travel is hectic… time away from your family… a different city every 2 days for
about 25 days a month. Scrutiny is at an all time high. one only needs to look to ESPN or youtube or elsewhere to see that there are many people that either don’t respect the job we do, or feel that they can do a better job themselves.  Everybody has an opinion, and they get the advantage of slow motion, frame by frame, hi-def replays that they can rewind on their TiVo’s.

What was the most memorable game for you? Please tell us about it.

Game 3 of Memphis vrs OKC in the 2nd round of the playoffs in 2011. I got a chance to work with one of my biggest mentors, Kenny Mauer, who consequently also refereed with my father before he got hired in the NBA.  I flew my dad down to Memphis for the game, and the three of us had a blast.  The game was intense, and our crew did well that night.

What do you do to be mentally fit?

First take a break after the season…get away from it. Then, I teach at Elevate Officiating Camp (EOC) in Dallas. Teaching keeps me sharp, and always evolving.

What else do you do for mental preparation?

Besides reviewing the rule book, case book, and manual, I review the curriculum of EOC which includes the ‘landmines’ of officiating, or the places we as referees ‘step in’ and hurt ourselves in games.

Doug Collins, Pat FraherWhat is the biggest challenge for you at the moment?

Incorporating knowledge I’ve gained in officiating into my game. It’s one thing to conceptually understand something, but totally another to be able to apply it to your game every night.

What is your goal?

The NBA Finals. (Note from the editor: Ok, my bad, stupid question…)

How do you handle failures?

I’m getting better with this…but it took another way of thinking about it.  “What do you tie your confidence to?” is the question. Are they tied to your results?  Results in officiating (and in life) is a product of your own personal performance package at the time (A), and outside factors (B) that are outside of your control. R=A x B.  So, even if you maximized your performance package (talent, experience, skill set, effort, and commitment), you still wouldn’t be able to guarantee your results…it’s not R=A.  So, the trick is to tie your confidence to the process of improving your performance package (A), and not results (R). That way your confidence can remain high despite the results.

What do you consider the most important characteristic of a top referee?

Awareness… which can be learned.

If you could give only one advice to a young and ambitious referee, what would it be?

Build a solid foundation, and then go learn from the top in the profession.

This is exactly what we’re doing on this site. Feel free to leave your mark in the comments, you are always appreciated here.

About Peter

Peter Papp is an enthusiastic supporter of open-minded referees, international basketball referee (FIBA) and NLP Master Practitioner. Peter is the founder of


Read more:
referee supporting coach
5 Mundane yet Game-Changing Tips for Referees

I pretty much welcome guest posts partly because my time is limited recently, and because the world is a better...