The NBA has expanded its search for talented players to all corners of the earth as the league continues to enjoy an increasingly international flair.
A similar initiative is starting to pave the way for a global expansion of the pool of officials.
“It’s important because human beings should be allowed to have the opportunities of a meritocracy regardless of where you come from and how you’re born into this world,” Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s vice president of referee development and training, said Tuesday. “We are fortunate enough to have a leader in (commissioner) Adam Silver who truly believes in inclusiveness. To be truly inclusive means you’re open to a good referee, good coaches and good players coming from anywhere.”
Several international officials are calling games in the Vegas Summer League, which has become a convention of sorts for younger NBA referees and those from the G-League, WNBA and FIBA looking to sharpen their skills.
Approximately 100 officials gather in a conference room each morning for seminars led by McCutchen and other veteran referees before heading over to the UNLV campus to call games.
Discussions cover everything from mechanics to writing reports, a vital and almost always unseen part of an official’s job.
It’s a room Hortencia Sanchez-Carrizales never thought she could be in.
As a Mexican woman officiating an Olympic qualifying tournament in Canada five years ago, she was partnered with NBA referee Lauren Holtkamp and realized her own career had a ceiling.
“I thought, Oh, she’s an NBA ref and I can’t do that because I’m Mexican and I don’t live in the States,” said Sanchez-Carrizales, who is one of three international referees among the 11 hired by the G-League for the upcoming season. “Now I’m here and I can say to my friends and family and other officials I’ve worked with back home that there is an opportunity. It’s really amazing.”
Sanchez-Carrizales officiated Tuesday’s game between the Suns and Grizzlies. Three of the new hires in the G-League are from outside the United States, a number that also includes Canada’s Teresa Stuck and Mexico’s Omar Bermudez. All three are participating in the Ref Campus this week at Summer League, which has become the NBA’s largest training and development event.
Bermudez called a game between the Hawks and Pacers at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday after attending a seminar on “ugly, but legal” plays and another on writing postgame reports.
He became a referee in his home country in 2011 when a hand injury cut his playing career short. His passion has been rejuvenated by the sight of a path to the peak of the profession.
“It just makes me want to improve my skills every day so I can get there,” he said.
Sanchez-Carrizales agrees. While she dreams of one day becoming a full-time NBA official, she respects the process. It’s part of what this event is all about.
“I’m trying to absorb as much information as I can and I’m really, really happy to be here,” she said. “It’s a totally new world because in my domestic league and on the international level, we work a little different. Basketball is the same, but as referees, it’s different to see the game and analyze the plays and do the mechanics, so I’m learning a lot of new things. Right now, it’s just to learn everything I can about the NBA system and refereeing. I want to get there, but in this moment I want to just go step by step.”
At least she knows the door is open. About a quarter of the officials in the program are female and the pool continues to get more diverse.
McCutchen is proud of the progress, although in the end, he’s even more impressed with the increasing quality of his officiating group.
“I’m not interested in filling quotas,” he said. “I am interested in anyone that earns a spot through their work having the availability and opportunity to maximize their dreams, their hopes and their skill sets. Once you open the doors and your own eyes and your own experience to what great refereeing looks like, you see all this rich, incredible, available talent at your disposal from different countries and different genders and that is exciting because now we’ve opened an entire pool all over the world of people that can serve the game of basketball.”
“I can’t be more excited about that.”