Referees, Stat Geeks, NBA Veterans -- Surprising Things from the D-League

NBA referees are a non-stop topic of conversation among basketball fans. But ... anyone know where they come from?

Since 2002, I learned just this morning, 100% of new NBA referee hires have come from the same place: The D-League.

So, what kind of oversight and training are they getting in the D-League?

George Toliver, Director of NBA D-League Officials, recently explained all that on D-League Commissioner Dan Reed's blog:

Once hired to the D-League they are in a training stage as potential candidates for the NBA and WNBA. The training process is a vital learning phase which can take up to 5 or 6 years because of the high level of expectation for performance required to referee in the NBA and WNBA.
The in season training process includes teaching sessions each game day (approximately 2 hours before each game) and an in-depth evaluation and review of the game at night AFTER the game (approximately 2 hours) is officiated. Our instructors are former NBA referees. These instructors sometimes attend games and then meet with the referees to provide additional post game instruction and evaluation. These staff members also review other games on video DVDs and provide development information to the referees. The D-League referees are also required to take weekly rules tests, view video plays which are provided to them during the week and they are required to submit evaluations of their performance in games when requested by their supervisor.

This is a training process which each referee takes seriously as it is a part of their on-going "job interview" to try to reach the highest level of professional officiating. The referees that make progress and reach the highest performance standards remain in the program and those that do not are released. The referees that have the highest performance during the season will be given play off games. Referees we retain will attend summer training in July to continue the development process and improve their skills.

The goal for all is to provide the best service to the game of basketball for the entertainment of fans like yourself. Please be assured that every effort to do what is fair and right is always on the forefront of all of our minds.

I learned about this from reading 48 Minutes of Hell, where Timothy Varner just published a very interesting conversation with D-League Commissioner Reed. You will respect the D-League if you read the whole interview. You will also notice an open casting call for smart people to help the D-League re-invent the box score:

So the D-League likes to stay ahead of the curve. Has the D-League given any thought to becoming the trend setter in the stats revolution? Earlier this season, I wrote how I'd like to see someone bite the bullet and re-invent the box score, and why that would be beneficial to developing players. Even the inclusion of basic stats–stats that every NBA team already tracks –- such as deflections, offensive fouls drawn, and Gretzskys would represent a huge leap forward. It strikes me that placing emphasis on these sort of non-traditional numbers would encourage players toward greater refinement of their skill sets. In other words, if a guy knows he will be credited on the box score for drawing a charge, he's likely to concentrate more on good, timely rotations. What do you think?

Funny you say that, because that is in fact the next frontier for us, in terms of innovation. Not that the box score will be reinvented next year - something like that will certainly take some time - but we're already preparing to be able to capture and communicate much more advanced statistics for next season.

In fact, I'd really like to enlist all of the smart and passionate people who are working on this to help us - partly because we don't have the budget to hire an army of statisticians, and partly because unlike an NBA team, we have no incentive to keep our efforts proprietary. We can help drive an "open source” movement on basketball statistics and actually apply them in a real league, within the confines of the NBA. So, to the budding basketball statisticians out there, please send me an email via my blog and we'll follow up with a way that you can potentially get involved. And who knows, maybe we'll help you get "called up” to become the next Daryl Morey!

UPDATE: Ryan from BasketballGeek.com has an excellent point: "Just curious if you ever hear anyone talk about re-creating play-by-play. As nice as it would be to have some of the 'advanced stats' go main stream in the box score, that's not going to do anything to help us understand the game better. What we really need is more information inside of the play-by-play... like locations of where events happen would be a start."

Coincidentally, Ridiculous Scott at Ridiculous Upside also has an interview published this morning with Reed. They cover lots of ground, including the idea of NBA veterans playing D-League ball, which has happened in the cases of Othella Harrington and Randy Livingston.

Explain to me the Othella Harrington situation. Being 34 years old and already playing 12 years in the NBA, he surely wasn't in the D-League to develop. What are the restrictions on who can come into the D-League? Is it anyone that could possibly be called-up or are there specific guidelines?

In general, we look to sign talented players who are in the "development" stage of their careers, and whom NBA teams have expressed interest in evaluating further. This usually means we sign younger prospects (and we do have an 18 year old age minimum), however periodically there is an accomplished veteran who wants to continue playing for a shot to get into the NBA. As long as said player can still compete and a few NBA teams tell us they're interested in seeing him play, we'll usually offer him a slot.

We also think a player like this can play an important role as a mentor and advisor to our younger prospects -- for example, does Mike Taylor from the Idaho Stampede become the first NBA D-League player drafted to the NBA without learning from an 10-year NBA veteran like Randy Livingston every day in practice? Finally, players like Othella and Randy are sometimes interested in participating in the D-League in order to start a transition into coaching, and as you know another objective of ours is to help develop coaches for the NBA. Randy is an example of a guy who has managed this transition quite successfully.