Weatherford Democrat

August 1, 2011

Brock man talks about life as an NBA ref

Sally Sexton

BROCK — Wake up, breakfast, morning meeting, lunch with the crew, website tutorial, nap, prepare for game, referee the game, shower and decompress, get something to eat, review tape and fill out game report, pack for the next day, wake up and fly out to the next city.

This is all just a day’s work for Brock’s Jason Phillips during a regular National Basketball Association season.

A Cisco native, Phillips just finished his 11th season as a referee in the NBA.

While he may get more time off than most during the offseason, Phillips is busier than ever when the preseason starts in October. From there, the regular season takes over, which ends in April.

“Normally, in a regular season, I’ll work between 12 and 15 games a month,” he said. “That translates to anywhere from 22 to 28 days a month on the road. That’s a lot of time away from home during the season.”

An athlete in basketball and baseball throughout school, Phillips first began calling games right out of high school. He also umpired baseball, but stopped to focus on basketball when he realized “basketball has a time limit and the atmosphere is usually 72 degrees and sunny.”

“A guy that lived in Cisco, who had refereed some of my games, came and asked me if I was interesting in doing something to earn a little extra money while in college and stay around the game,” he said.

Phillips began refereeing at the pee wee level, moving on to junior high, then junior varsity and varsity basketball at the high schools.

“I moved up through the high school ranks quickly, and started working summer camps before I went to one run by three NBA referees in 1993,” Phillips said. “During my second one in July of ‘94, I was seen by a supervisor of officials for the NBA and he basically scouted me like I was a player.”

A few months later, he received a letter on an NBA letterhead, asking him if he was interested in joining the training program.

Phillips spent the next six years working Continental Basketball Association games, as well as three summers with the Women’s National Basketball Association, before making his debut with the NBA.

“It’s an honor to be associated with any professional sport because there is such a limited number of opportunities for that,” Phillips said of the field of 60 referees in the NBA. “I have had the opportunity to do some things I would not otherwise have gotten to do growing up in Cisco.

“And to be on the same floor as the Dirk Nowitzkis, the Kobe Bryants, the LeBron Jameses ... to be a part of that is neat in itself, and it provides a good living for my family.”

While the career has its bonuses, separation from family is one of the struggles that Phillips says comes with his job, with a wife, Lewana, and three boys, Seth, Shay and Kooper.

“I have three boys who are very active in different things and it’s hard to be away because you never get that time back,” he said. “Seth was 4 when I started refereeing in the CBA, and it took him time getting used to me being gone so much. Shay knew it a little better and Kooper, this is all he knows basically.

“It’s stressful when I’m gone because my wife becomes a single parent [of three boys]. If it wasn’t for her, this wouldn’t be possible. She’s a strong, independent lady who does a great job of keeping the household together when I’m gone.”

When off the court, he makes sure to spend as much time with family as he can.

“During the regular season, I try to put basketball away [at home] because that time [with my family] is so few and far between.”

During the playoffs, Phillips spends time preparing for his next assignment by watching the teams in previous games.

“If I know I have a series coming up, I’ll watch the games leading up to it to get a feel,” he said.

During the last playoff season, Phillips was on an official crew during the Dallas Mavericks-Oklahoma City Thunder series as well as a Dallas-Los Angeles Lakers game.

Before the season even starts, officials must go through a full-blown physical, complete with X-rays, checks for vision and hearing, and a heart-rate monitoring exam.

“My last season went longer because I worked the playoffs, so I haven’t really done a lot as far as running, just so I could let me body recuperate for a few months,” Phillips said. “It’s about time to go back to work, and I’ll usually jog 3 to 5 miles for two or three days a week.

“Once the season starts, it’s about maintaining, do cardio on my off days, and some light cardio as a warm-up before games.”