NBA Has COVID-19-Related Referee Shortage Because of Contact Tracing

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2021

The court floor and league logo are shown after Game 3 of the NBA basketball Western Conference final between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Nine NBA referees are currently out because of COVID-19 and contact tracing, leading to a shortage that's spread league officiating crews thin. 

Baxter Holmes of ESPN reported the NBA expects the officials—some of whom are senior referees who could be assigned to the NBA Finals—to be available before the playoffs begin. 

"We at the NBA have taken a very strong stance, especially with referees traveling commercial, that we want referees and the teams that they are serving to be safe," Monty McCutchen, the NBA's vice president of referee development and training, told ESPN. "And so with an abundance of caution, we pull people out on contact tracing, if there's even the smallest inkling [of an issue]."

The NBA has been forced to work with several two-person crews rather than the typical three because of shortages. The league has also leaned heavily on six top G League referees to step in as substitutes when needed.

Officiating has become one of the biggest stories of the 2020-21 NBA season, in large part due to players and coaches expressing frustration. While the league says that officiating is actually better this season than in years past, it's likely the combination of unfamiliar faces and smaller crews has led to some wariness among teams.

McCutchen told Holmes that the NBA has safeguards in place to ensure top officials are available for the playoffs. The NBA will have referees on standby, trim crews to their most senior officials and space out playoff games to ensure the quality of the games is not impacted by refereeing.

COVID-19 and injuries have been a major source of concern as the postseason draws near. Nearly every championship contender has had issues with either a COVID-19 outbreak or a serious injury to a star player this season.