Work Life Balance as a New NBA Referee (And Technology’s Impact)
How Tyler Ford broke into the NBA as a referee after stops in college, the WNBA and the D-League — and how he deals with the long road trips with a newborn at home
How does a young referee get to the NBA? The path is different for everyone, but for Tyler Ford, a 31-year-old in his second full season as an NBA ref, that journey was faster than most.
It doesn’t mean it comes without challenges — like balancing long road trips with a wife and newborn at home. We talked to Ford for the latest in our referee profiles (see Violet Palmer’s earlier this year).
NBRA: How did you get involved in refereeing?
Tyler Ford: My journey started in intramural sports. When I was taking my orientation visit to Ball State, I was heading there with the intent of studying sports administration — I thought I wanted to be a sports agent when I first got there, and knew I wanted to have a campus job. Our orientation leader had worked at the rec center and had refereed. So I remember seeing that and thinking that was perfect. I was a huge sports fan since I was really young, always familiar with the rules, while playing three sports in high school. It made a lot of sense. I did volleyball first, then started doing basketball in January, and immediately got hooked by the internal competition that takes place on every possession — that competition that I didn’t have in life anymore after leaving high school.
NBRA: You were a rookie NBA referee last season, and are one of the youngest referees in the league. How was it making the leap last year, and who were some mentors that have helped you along the way?
TF: The transition is easier now because they sprinkle you in a couple games when you’re still in the D-League. I worked 10 or 12 regular season games and three preseason games the year before. In terms of the schedule or the way things work, none of that was really a surprise. Anytime you go to an arena for the first time, there’s that unfamiliarity you have. It’s easier this year going through it, that provides a greater level of comfort. But in terms of the level of play, it’s bigger, faster, stronger, more mentally draining — all of the above, in terms of what the NBA game is above anything else I’ve worked at. I have worked in the WNBA, D-League and Division I in the past. There’s a lot of pressure in the NBA every night. You just try to laser-focus on your job, every single possession, to try to be as successful as possible.
NBRA: How about on the external side — the things around the game. Commentary from fans you might get on social media, or from people in your life — has that given you a different level of exposure?
TF: You get a lot more Facebook friends. I think you get a feel in the referee community how much other referees look up to the refs in the NBA. And I think that’s deserving. It’s one of the most talented group of referees in the world. You certainly are able to connect and impact the referee community across the country. You notice that immediately. I got inducted into my high school Hall of Fame a few weeks ago, mostly because I’m an NBA referee. It’s things like that that happen now where people say ‘oh you work in the NBA, that’s really cool.’
NBRA: You had stops in the NBA D-League and the WNBA before coming to the NBA. What did you take from those jobs?
TF: The D-League is fundamentally where you learn how to be an NBA referee, from a mechanics standpoint. I worked close to 200 games in the D-League. You go through a lot of different experiences. We didn’t have replay in the D-League when I was there, so when I got to the WNBA, it allowed me to grow in that particular area.
NBRA: You and your wife just had a baby. How has the balance of personal and work life been for you?
TF: It’s different now. I don’t want to downplay the fact that you want to get home and see your wife, but certainly when you have a child I think that you miss being home even more when you’re on the road. I’m only on my second true road trip of the season, so I’m sure that’s going to continue to grow. I’m in the midst of an 11-day trip — I can’t wait to go home. I can’t imagine what this job would have been like 10 or 15 years ago. Now we have FaceTime — that makes it easier. As a dad, I fear that potential disconnect from being on the road so much. So hopefully with technology, I can make up for that.
NBRA: What advice would you have for an aspiring referee?
TF: Luckily I had the experience of training a lot of intramural referees. The first thing is just giving it a try. There’s a lot of people that are fearful of competition, or don’t want to get yelled at. It is challenging when you first start. Confidence is such a big part of what we do. You can be active, there’s a fitness aspect to this, it’s mentally stimulating. Every day is different, so there’s a lot you can gain from the game.
Most memorable moment as a ref: “The phone call to get hired by the NBA.”
One secret about being a ref that most people wouldn’t know: “That we don’t care who wins or loses, or who is on the floor.”
One way you get through the grueling schedule: “I’m a big sports fan. I watch a lot of basketball, but also football and golf.”
If you weren’t a referee, what would you be?: “I would be working in the sports industry in some form or fashion.”
Steve Kerr is hurt and disillusioned and angry. He is completely fed up with government inertia in the face of epidemic gun violence that frequently manifests itself in mass shootings such as that which occurred Wednesday in Florida.
The Warriors coach is on this subject among the broadening chorus of voices, every one of them existing in a vacuum.
Everybody hears it, every time, but those within power structure never listen, for if they truly did they would take responsible preventive action.
In the wake of this latest tragedy it was evident Kerr, even as he prepared to coach the Warriors against the Trail Blazers in Portland, was particularly shaken.
His visage wore the news of another unhinged soul shooting up a school. At least 17 are dead, the vast majority of them students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. And the casualty count is likely to rise.
“Nothing has been done,” Kerr said with visible contempt. “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death, day after day, in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It’s not enough, apparently, to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country, to actually do anything. And that’s demoralizing.
“But we can do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people’s lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they’ve financed their campaign.”
Yes, he went there. Kerr urged American voters to seek out and support political candidates independent of the powerful National Rifle Association and, therefore, willing to generate momentum toward enacting responsible gun laws.
He barely bothered to address the current government, opting instead to plead with the voting public. Is anybody listening?
There is every indication that voices such as that of Kerr will not be silenced. He spoke passionately and from personal experience. His life was touched by gun violence in the most extreme fashion when his father, Malcolm, an educator, was assassinated at a school in Beirut 34 years ago last month.
Kerr is not alone in this quest for action. Many others joined in.
Former player Steve Nash, a Warriors consultant bound for the Hall of Fame, expressed his feelings on Twitter: “The rest of the world is having success prohibiting access to guns. I don’t see what the debate is about. It’s not working here. People are dying at alarming rates. If you value guns more than life and safety I don’t understand.”
Jared Dudley, a member of the Phoenix Suns and one of more respected veterans in the NBA, spoke up via Twitter: “So sad man! Gotta change theses Gun laws! I’m tired of the slogan guns don’t kill people only people kill people.. Change the Law!”
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell kept his message to six words, printing “End gun violence” on his right shoe and “Pray for Parkland” on his left.
Mitchell’s mother is a teacher.
Here’s Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins: “How do we stop this? When will there be proactive change from our government leaders to address the complexity of why this keeps happening? Praying for those affected in Parkland. And Orlando, and Columbine, and Sandy Hook, and every other senseless and tragic shooting.”
And former NFL player Damien Woody: “I’m just over here thinking about how we as a society use the term ‘pro life’ . . . days like today doesn’t do it justice.”
And Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, quote tweeting the obligatory “prayers and condolences” tweet from President Trump: “Yea.. but the fact is that they AREN’T safe. Just more rhetoric and no action. WAKEUP!!!!”
Is anybody listening?
Wednesday was the 45th day of this calendar year -- and the 18th school shooting. Quick math tells us that equals two every five days, 10 every 25 and 20 every 50.
Many children of color grow up with violence. Studies have proved that the experience traumatizes them to varying degrees. There are neighborhoods all across these United States in which children are as afraid of law enforcement as they are of street gangs. It’s how they grow up.
The powerlessness and apprehension is growing each day. And each time our elected leaders choose to look the other way while holding open their duffle bags to accept NRA cash, the sense of despair gets deeper.
How many children will go to school today and tomorrow and all the days after that feeling anxieties they should not have to bear in a so-called civilized society?
They’ll be looking over their shoulders. They’ll be wondering about the student whose temper is a bit too quick and hot. They’ll be trying to avoid the student who is too much of a loner or makes threats. They’ll be wary of the bully and the bullied. They’ll be trying to escape those that pose with firearms on social media.
The despair is real, and if you look into the eyes of the young you can feel it.
“Hopefully, we’ll find enough people first of all to vote good put people in,” Kerr said. “But, hopefully, we can find enough people with courage to actually help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues, not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semiautomatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It’s disgusting.”
Kerr is among those willing to speak up and advocate for change. There are others. And they will be joined by many more who will make it their mission to follow the example of most every civilized society.
If the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, a single day, could persuade our government to take steps to make air travel safer, how many deadly events does it take to grow the principle and power to say no to the NRA and yes to the safety of children?
Is anybody listening?