The NBA referees, like the players, are governed by a collective bargaining agreement with the NBA and have representatives who help them negotiate with the league. Whether it’s wages, working benefits or other issues, the NBRA helps ensure the referees are valued for their essential contributions to the game. Below are some significant periods in our history, including how, when and why the NBRA formed:
In 1973, due to unfit labor conditions, the NBA referees banded together to form the National Basketball Officials Association. This informal union challenged the league over inadequate salaries and benefits.
Still lacking a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and with an ongoing need to advocate for improved working conditions, an official union was founded in 1977 called the National Association of Basketball Referees. Today, we are known as the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA).
Upon formation in 1977, the NBRA voted to strike during NBA playoffs. This action resulted in the NBA hiring replacement referees throughout the remainder of the regular season and playoffs. Due to fan and player scrutiny surrounding the effectiveness of the replacement referees, the NBA settled the strike and recognized the NBRA as the sole bargaining unit for the referees.
Five years later, in September 1983, after the expiration of the CBA, the NBA again hired replacement referees during the pre-season and beginning of the regular season. The following month, the referees were asked to leave Madison Square Garden during a unified protest in which they circled the basketball court twice. They then handed out whistles to spectators entering the arena. The NBRA immediately filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. In December 1983, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service entered the dispute and announced a new 3-year CBA.
In 1995, the NBA announced the lock out of referees because of a “no-strike clause” in the CBA proposal. In December 1995, the NBRA and NBA signed a five-year agreement, and the referees resumed officiating games.
In September of 1997, the NBA and NBRA broke historic ground by adding the first female referees of any major U.S. professional sport, Dee Kantner and Violet Palmer.
In 2017, the NBRA expanded to include the professional officials of the WNBA and the G League.