James Williams: Life As A D-League Official

by Matthew Brennan, D-League.com

BOISE, January 16, 2008: In any D-League game there are three individuals in attendance who for the most part go unnoticed, but hold themselves to as high a standard as any basketball player or coach. These are the D-League officials. James Williams is one of those officials and he shared his insight into his career after he called the Sioux Falls - Austin game at the D-League Showcase on Wednesday afternoon.

Not just anyone can become a D-League official, as many are chosen by the NBA to show their ability during the offseason and then a smaller number are chosen to become D-League officials. Williams was one of those few two years ago.

"In order to officiate in the D-League, you have to be invited to one of the NBA camps in the summer," said Williams. "In that camp in Orlando you see some some players that are in the league, but mostly those who have just been drafted. You go out there and perform and if they like what they see and think that you can perform on this level, they invite you on the staff."

James Williams officiating at the D-League Showcase
Ron Hoskins/Getty Images/NBAE
Like almost all officials, Williams worked in the college game before getting the call to move up to the D-League. This step up can be a challenge, due to the greater speed and athleticism of the professional game. Of course, just like a basketball player, gaining more experience in the D-League helps officials improve their abilities as well.

"Before I joined the D-League I was doing mid-major college basketball, I live in the Atlanta area so I was mostly concentrated in the Southeast," said Williams. "The players in the D-League are obviously bigger, stronger, faster, so obviously plays happen a lot faster. Things happen a lot quicker, and it's really unbelievable how talented the players are. It helps you when you go back to your college schedule, things seem a lot slower. The D-League gives you the ability to see NBA-type professional basketball because it is played very different compared to the college game."

In order to meet the D-League and NBA's goal of ensuring that games have the best officiating possible, D-League officials go through a thorough and continous program where they review their past games and communicate with the league office on various developments. Williams explained the training process, which illustrates that an official's job is far from over when the final buzzer sounds.

"There is a lot of training that we have to do," said Williams, before he went to review tape of the game he had just officiated. "They do web plays, we have to log onto the site everyday and see new plays that they put on from the NBA that show how the office wants particular plays to be run. We take weekly tests to strengthen our rules knowledge and then we have supersvisors and observers just like in the NBA who chart your calls. They write down whether things are done right or wrong, and if they are wrong, then why. After every game we have to do a breakdown of the tapes. For every game we get a DVD or VHS and break down the tape, figure out what we did wrong, and e-mail those to the boss so they can get a snapshot of what we are doing if they are not in the game."

As a D-League official, Williams has a busy travel schedule on his slate during the season. Luckily, his other career is flexible enough that he is able to balance it with officiating and the long hours away from home that it entails. The far-flung geographic location of certain D-League cities can sometimes make getting to a D-League game a difficult propostion if the weather is not cooperating.

"I would say that most people average about six to nine games a month, so you would officiate around two games a week," said Williams. "The travel just depends on where they send you, and it involves a lot of travel because most D-League cities are not the easiest to get to. You plan ahead and have contingencies put in place in case you can't get to where you are trying to go. Sometimes you have to hope that Mother Nature is kind."

"I'm also a sales analyst for Office Depot back in Atlanta and I am also working on my MBA," continued Williams. "You have to have that flexibility and a place that is willing to work with you. As you know it's Wednesday afternoon and I'm here and not in Atlanta, so you have to have that flexibility built in or you can't do this."

For aspiring basketball officials who are looking to improve their craft, Williams stresses one thing above all in importance. Just like playing the game, practicing the same fundamentals are vital in officiating when it comes to perfecting your skills.

"The number one tool to get better at officiating is to watch film," says Williams. "Whatever level of basketball you are working at, get a tape of your game and sit down with someone who has a great knowledge of officiating and do a true breakdown of your performance. In the NBA as well as here in the D-League, every official is their own worst critic. Fans can get us on us as much as they want but nobody is as hard on us as ourselves. We get paid to make calls right, so when we miss things we don't like it. It's part of the game, but we are constantly striving to be perfect out there. Definitely break it down and be a 100-percent honest with a critique of yourself. If you do that, you will go far."