Where are the referees?

From death to promotion: Why fans see the same faces on the court this NBA season

Those who follow basketball closely often recognize people behind the whistle and the gray shirt. Names such as Scott Foster and Tony Brothers live in the fan’s imagination, memes, jokes, and criticism. 

MILWAUKEE, WI – JULY 20: Scott Foster #48 and Tony Brothers #25 share a conversation during Game Six of the 2021 NBA Finals between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks on July 20, 2021 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images).

However, fans have been complaining about the same names in the assignments this season, especially during the playoffs. So let’s see if fans are telling the truth: 

RIP Brown

Tony Brown was a top professional referee during the NBA’s regular season. Unfortunately, he died in October 2022 of pancreatic cancer. But even during his lengthy treatment, Brown occasionally worked at the Replay Center. 

Tony Brown

Like a boss

Kane Fitzgerald, another well-known fan figure, was tasked by the NBA with running the Replay Center, also taking over as VP of Referee Operations. Fitzgerald had been a playoff referee for a few years and had appeared in the Finals lineups since 2019.

Kane Fitzgerald

Go home

Ken Mauer, the veteran official who made his NBA debut in 1986, is on the list, along with Mark Ayotte and Jason Philips (former Replay Center principal), of officials who no longer serve in the league and reportedly sue the NBA for mandatory vaccination during the covid-19 pandemic. Mauer even expressed his “opinion” on the subject in an interview. Another anti-vax on the league’s list, according to Mauer, would be Leroy Richardson

Ken Mauer

Gold on the court

James Capers, recognized by the public as a good crew chief and for showing his visible gold chain under the gray referee jersey, has not appeared in the assignments since February 25, opening the door to speculation about possible health problems. However, in a May SLAM article, the veteran’s name appears as one of the mentors of the NBA’s Referee Development Program.

James Capers


Veterans like Bennie Adams and Tom Washington, respectively, 28 and 32 league seasons, disappeared from the regular-game assignments. Washington has still been in a few jobs this season, both on the court and at the Replay Center. His last appearance working for the NBA was on March 22 at the league’s review center in Secaucus. Adams has more time away from the courts – his last game was on April 10, 2022, in a match between OKC and Clippers.

Bennie Adams

Tom Washington

The NBA avoids disclosing referees’ employment or health status for many reasons, including speculation about the growing and dominant betting market. However, with all the open spots we saw above, the fans will see, in this year’s Finals, once again the duo Foster and Brothers on the court.

Photos: NBA and NBA/Getty.

Replay Center print: Bally Sports Cleveland. Mauer print: Defector.

Publicado por Alice Barbosa

NBA journalist and writer. Árbitros NBA creator, website/social media about NBA refereeing. Jornalista e escritora, criadora do projeto Árbitros NBA (site, Twitter e Instagram). Periodista y escritora, creadora del proyecto Árbitros NBA (sitio web, Twitter e Instagram). @aliceviralata @arbitrosnba

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