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Top 5 Best NBA Referees of All Time

The NBA relies heavily on referees because they are to uphold the game's regulations and fair play. Here we take a look at the top 5 NBA Referees of all time.

Last updated: 07.05.2023
Best NBA Referees of All Time

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The NBA relies heavily on referees because they are to uphold the game's regulations and fair play. Their choices can significantly affect a game's result because one judgment can make the difference between a team winning or losing.

Making sure players are secure by halting risky or illegal moves is one of the officials' main responsibilities. Additionally, they are in charge of pointing out infractions and penalties, such as double dribbling or traveling, which can cost the rival team a miscue or a set of free throws.

Referees are essential in controlling the game's tempo and movement. To ensure a fair and competitive game, they can halt play to examine immediate videos, issue cautions or technical penalties, or modify the game time.


Additionally, officials must be impartial and objective throughout the entire game and possess a thorough grasp of the NBA rulebook. As a result, they must make judgments based purely on what they observe, without favoring any particular player or squad. 

Keeping this in mind, here is a list of the top 5 NBA referees of all time.


Mendy Rudolph – 1953-75


After 22 years as a referee, Mendy Rudolph became the first official to officiate in more than 2,000 games. He officiated 2112 games during that time, a record he kept up until his retirement. He was the first referee to oversee 2000 games at the time. In addition, Rudolph managed eight NBA All-Star games and was a referee for 22 straight NBA Finals. Mendy Rudolph collaborated with Dolph Schayes, who was appointed as the league's official supervisor, as the referee-in-chief in 1966. As chief of officials, he was in charge of the referee's mechanics, methods, and interpretations of the rules. One of the select few officials to be honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is Mendy Rudolph.


Joey Crawford – 1977-2016


After a controversial 39-year NBA tenure, Joey Crawford retired in 2016. Even though younger fans might not have fond memories of Joey Crawford's final seasons in the league, for a while he was a superb referee. Although he was fairly accurate when it came to calls and no-calls, he received criticism for his strictness and propensity to eject players and coaches and issue technical fouls. Tim Duncan was just laughing on the bench when he was thrown out, which made Crawford renowned. His run of NBA Finals appearances was broken by the incident, which resulted in a league suspension for him. Joey Crawford has officiated in more NBA Finals (50 games) and NBA Playoffs (313) than any other active official as of 2015. He was one of the select few officials to officiate more than 2000 games.


Dick Bavetta – 1975-2014


One of the most well-known NBA non-player characters is Dick Bavetta and for a good cause. He established the norm for NBA official pay, earning $200,000 annually. He appeared in several noteworthy incidents as well, including kissing Charles Barkley and chasing him in the 2007 All-Star Game. Bavetta, who received the highest ratings for performance during her nearly four decades of officiating, resigned at the age of 75. He was admitted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015 after officiating 2,600 consecutive games and 2,635 total contests.


Earl Strom – 1957-90

Earl Strom is one of the rare figures in sports annals. Strom was regarded as one of the most outstanding NBA officials of all time, but he was also quite divisive. When other referees or even supporters disagreed with his calls, he didn't think twice about getting physical. In 1995, Earl Strom became a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He used a unique melody to blow his whistle, earning him the nickname "The Pied Piper." He officiated 2400 regular-season games, 295 NBA postseason games, 29 NBA and ABA finals, and 2400 other games throughout his 32-year career.


Darrell Garretson – 1967-94


Many other outstanding officials who arrived after Darrell Garretson was made possible by his work. In addition to being one of the best NBA referees and being inducted into the Hall of Fame, he subsequently served as the NBA's Supervisor for Officials for 17 years. During his tenure in the NBA, he made a truly remarkable impact. The first union for NBA officials, which served as the forerunner to the present-day NBRA, was established by Darrell Garretson. He also argued in favor of adding a third officer to the court's existing two. In addition, Garretson created the idea of "refereeing the defense," in which referees concentrate on a defensive player rather than the object.

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