A Story of Risk Taking: One Referee’s Path To The NBA

Before The Whistle with NBA Referee Gediminas Petraitis

When you speak with professional referees about why they chose to pursue officiating at the highest level, almost all of them will tell you they were “bit by the officiating bug.” With three NBA seasons under his belt, Gediminas Petraitis (pronounced GED-I-MIN-AS PE-TRAIT-IS) is no different. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Gediminas, or G, as he is affectionately called, was working towards a career as an accountant when he began officiating just before he was set to graduate. We spoke with G about his short stint at Price Waterhouse Cooper, and the risks he took to pursue what he loved.

Q: How did you get your start in officiating?

G: “I started officiating in 2010 or ’11. My dad was a college official, so instead of working odd jobs in college, he would tell me to go and referee kids’ games because the schedule was flexible and I could make a little more money. The first year he said that, I kind of put it off, but the second year I went to the (referee) classes. I started refereeing in Maryland while still taking college classes.

After graduating in 2011 from the University of Maryland with an Accounting and Finance degree, I was supposed to take the first portion of the four-part CPA exam that summer. It also happened to be the same summer I went to a referee camp for the first time. I didn’t know at the time, but (the camp) ended up being a try-out camp for college basketball (officiating). At that point I still wasn’t thinking about becoming an NBA ref, I just wanted to get better at refereeing in general. I ended up getting picked up in my first NCAA Division 1 conference for the Big South and Joe Forte. From there I went to the D-League (now G-League) tryout in Houston. Then I got invited to go to Las Vegas for the summer league. That was before when it was still part of the try-out process, now they hire you and then take you to summer league. I remember getting back from summer league and thinking, this is really cool, this is what I want to do. At the same time, I was still studying for my CPA exam, but after coming back from summer league I knew accounting was not going to be for me and that test was no longer a priority.”

Q: Did you have another career before deciding to officiate full-time?

G: “I started working at PWC as an auditor. I was probably the shortest tenured person at PWC ever. I worked from the beginning of September until mid-December when the season started. It was pretty neat because as a person who just graduated from college, I was going into a job that I had just spent four-and-a-half years studying for, but also had this other opportunity where I really didn’t know what was going to happen. It was great having the support of my parents. My dad a bit more so than my mom at the beginning because my dad, being an official, understood the lifestyle, where my mom, still very supportive, was a bit more cautious.”

Q: What was it like taking the risk and asking for time off to go to referee camps?

G: “It was very nerve-wracking going into the partner at PWC to ask for options to see how balancing a position with them while officiating could work. This was even before working a lot of games. It was more asking if I could even referee games at all. From January until the beginning of May was busy season (at PWC), which happens to coincide with basketball season. So, you’re in the office from 8am-10pm with no opportunity to even referee high school games. It was a battle with myself to go in and ask, but the worst thing they could say is no, or maybe fire me. Fortunate for me, they gave me a four-month leave of absence. So, from mid-December to May 1, I was only refereeing. However, when I came back to PWC, it was already time for all of the off-season and try-out camps. So, I sent another email including my schedule over the next few months to see if anything could be worked out. Credit to them they didn’t just say what are you doing? It was more like we understand and we’ll always let you come back, but you’ve got to make this decision. I was fortunate in that they let me decide.”