Q&A: Brothers John, Jacyn Goble strengthen their bond in NBA

As NBA referees, they have yet to work a game together, but still remain close

When the grind gets to him or if he’s just in a joking mood, Jacyn Goble can always blame his brother, John, for the hectic livelihood he’s chosen as an NBA referee. John, after all, had a head start of nine years in the league, though he’s only a couple years older. Jacyn had been doing fine as an officer with the Miami-Dade police department when big brother pitched him on the idea.

And John? Well, he can blame the long hours, low pay and limited opportunities he found in his first career choice as an aspiring high school or college athletic director. That’s what sent him back to officiating, turning a moonlighting gig into a career now in its 12th season.

They’re the first siblings to work on the NBA’s referee staff, which gives them even more to talk and argue about as each other’s best friend. They’re as close as ever, living and raising families in their native South Florida while working in officiating orbits that so far have yet to intersect; the brothers still were waiting for the night they’re assigned to the same game.

When they spoke recently via a group FaceTime chat with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, John had just gotten home from Washington, D.C., where he worked the Magic-Wizards game the night before. Jacyn was getting ready to head out again, his turnaround at home almost over after working Portland’s game in Los Angeles two nights earlier.

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Steve Aschburner: You guys have families, with four kids ranging in age from 10 to 14 years old. What are these quick pit stops in Miami like, given how much time you’re away from home?

John Goble: If time permits and the schedule aligns with the stars and the solar and lunar eclipses, then we might have time to make events. But we do miss a lot. Like Wednesday, when my son turns 15, I’ll be out of town. We’re going to celebrate it the following weekend when everybody’s home.

Jacyn Goble: I do the same thing. Sometimes I try to take ‘em on a trip. If it’s a one-day turnaround it works. Or at the end of the [calendar] year, Dec. 30 I had the Lakers and Clippers with a day off in between. So I took the family out and spent time together then.

SA: How did this end up as the family business? My understanding is that, John, you pitched Jacyn on becoming a referee, at least on a part-time basis.

John Goble: Yeah, for the most part. Early on, just getting into officiating, it was something I was doing while in college. Then my brother graduated [from high school] and I mentioned to him, “It’s a great part-time job.” I think that’s how most people get into it, whether it’s baseball or basketball. It’s a good way to stay connected with a sport if you played it, and you can make some extra money to make ends meet. I did only basketball to pay for books and tuition and then start creating my financial independence.

SA: Jacyn, when you got into it, was that the ceiling you had on it, that it was going to be a moonlighting thing?

Jacyn Goble: Yes, absolutely. Part-time job. Make ends meet. Same thing.

SA: Like John, you ended up at the height of your profession. But it came later for you, right?

Jacyn Gobel: After I did it for a couple of years, I joined the Miami-Dade police force. So I broke away for about six years before my brother got me back into refereeing again.

SA: Working as a police officer, was that a dream of yours? It definitely isn’t the kind of job someone takes lightly like any old 9-to-5 job.

Jacyn Goble: Growing up, we played in a police athletic league, and they used to host the games at a gym the police department used as a training facility. That sparked my interest. Once I graduated from high school, I thought I’d really like to be a cop. So I applied and got hired, and I had to stop refereeing for several years.

SA: And John, you never got bit by that bug?

John Goble: No interest whatsoever.

SA: In fact, you got your degree in physical education and sports management. So you had another line of work in mind entirely.

John Gobel: Yes. It came to a head my senior year at FIU [Florida International University]. My ultimate goal was to stay involved in athletics by trying to become an athletic director. When I got done with my degree and after doing an internship, I saw that the opportunities were very limited in trying to break into that field. Especially for the amount of money they were making. Concurrently I had started to advance in college officiating. Officiating was fun, and I wanted to see how high I could get on the college side – I really had no interest in the NBA.

The summer I graduated from FIU, I received a letter from the NBA about attending their summer league. When I went there – it was in Boston in 2001 – and refereed those games, that really piqued my interest. I liked the style of play, the pace. I said, “If I ever have an opportunity…” That’s the first time I thought about being in the NBA as a career. I decided to give it my all to see if I could make it. If not, I still had my sports management degree and I could referee college basketball.

He’s my best friend. So if I’m going to make a big purchase – a house, a car – I have to call him. He sees things a lot more level-headed, where I’m more impulsive.”

Jacyn Goble, on his relationship with his older brother, John

SA: Did it suit you right off as you worked through the NCAA conferences and then the G League?

John Gobel: I would say for the most part. For anybody who’s competitive, there’s a maturation process when you get into officiating. As you get a little bit older, when there are certain responses from players and coaches and fans, you realize 90 percent of the time they’re yelling at the shirt. You could walk by them without a referee’s jersey on and they wouldn’t even recognize you. That was a moment where it hit me, there’s emotion involved in the game and they want to win.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are cases where fans take it a little too far.

SA: Being brothers and so close, do you have similar personalities that you apply to this job? Or is there room for different demeanors and styles? I saw in your official NBA bios that John, you like to eat skirt steak, want to visit Rome and named American Airlines as your favorite app. Jacyn, you’re veal parmigiana, Tahiti and Netflix.

Jacyn Gobel: We’re slightly different. Like I’m the one who’s a little more adventurous. But my brother does a great job, and I’m calling him all the time. He’s my best friend. So if I’m going to make a big purchase – a house, a car – I have to call him. He sees things a lot more level-headed, where I’m more impulsive.

SA: I guess that makes sense. You’re brothers, not twins.

Jacyn Goble: There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

SA: Jacyn, considering your previous career, can we safely assume that handling tough characters and situations as a police officer for 13 years means you have little trouble handling players, coaches and tense NBA situations?

Jacyn Goble: Absolutely. It’s very similar. I think any referee can be a cop. Because you have to make decisions, quick decisions where you have to discern whether something is legal or illegal and whether you make a call or not. Working with the police is the same thing. You have to make quick decisions whether to use your weapon or not, how to de-escalate situations – I think it’s very similar.

SA: So John, it sounds like there’s hope if you ever want to make the transition in the other direction.

John Goble, shaking his head and smiling: No. I’ll be looking for some lonely high school that may have a vacating athletic director position that nobody else wants.

SA: Were you two athletes growing up? Was it basketball or other sports?

John Goble: As kids we played all sports. But as we grew up we both really liked basketball more. So we both played that in high school.

SA: And you were respectful of the referees?

John Goble: I was way more respectful.

SA: Wait, did you have run-ins? Ever get tossed?

Jacyn Goble: I got ejected from one game. I went at the official about a call I thought he should have made. It was late in the game to advance to the championship. Yeah. Wouldn’t do that again.

John Goble: I had a bigger issue with my high school coach. I always worried if I did something against a referee and it cost our team a point, I’d have a bigger issue after the game with him.

SA: It’d be nice if all NBA players felt that way, huh?

John Goble, laughing: That’s a better question for them to answer.

SA: Will we ever see you working the same game?

John Goble: We’ve never been told that we’re not going to work together. I think it’s just a by-product of the scheduling. If it ever does present itself it would be tremendous. It would be a great memory and a milestone years from now to say that we worked together.

SA: When was the last time you did officiate a game together?

We’re still observing after the whistle is blown, so if we see that two players maybe are starting to get a little feisty, if we can get in there and try to be a little preventative, say “Hey guys, hold on,” we will. We’ll try our best, but I’m not 6-9, 260.”

John Goble, on breaking up scuffles between players

John Goble: Whew, not even in college. Probably an adult rec league game.

SA: Any chance it would be competitive, as far as who blew the whistle first or got a call right?

Jacyn Goble: No, more just good banter. Like “That was a really good call” and being sarcastic.

SA: Do any coaches or players ever get you guys confused?

Jacyn Goble: Not yet at least. He has better hair than I do.

John Goble: Not by much.

SA: How much are you able to stay in touch during the season, when you’re each bouncing around the league on completely difference schedules?

John Goble: All the time, actually. Whether we call each other or we text. I would say 70 percent of it is about how we’re doing, what’s going on with our families because we’re gone so much. The rest, we will talk about the work aspect. About certain plays we had in games. Rules scenarios. How things were handled and what we can do better.

Jacyn Goble: It’s more me asking him, “What could I have done better?” He’s been to The Finals and he’s a great referee. So as much as I can soak up from him. I talked to him today about certain plays that I’ve had. I’ll clip a play and send it to him, and we’ll talk about it.

SA: You must share travel tips, as far as hotels and airlines and such.

Jacyn Goble: He gives me a lot. Every time I’m in a pinch, the first person I call is him. He starts trying to work out on the phone while he’s traveling, “You can jump on this flight. You can drive from here to there.” Like Dallas and OKC, or if I’m stuck in Chicago getting to Milwaukee. Little tricks of the trade.

John Goble: My flight this morning, I looked right away because living in Miami, American flies a lot of those 737 Max [airplanes, a Boeing product grounded last week by the FAA]. Turned out my flight was just a regular 737 but the one before mine was grounded. You just have to be pro-active. I know we’re toward the end of winter now, but that’s another little wrinkle that can get you.

SA: Any favorite restaurants on the road? I ask this recalling that when I put the question to former NBA ref Dick Bavetta, he answered “Every Marriott concierge lounge.” I think Dick liked the prices there.

John Goble: Calderone Club in Milwaukee.

Jacyn Goble: When we go to [work at the replay center], Angelo’s in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

John Goble: [Fellow referee] Eric Dahlen in Minneapolis turned us on to J.D. Hoyt’s.

SA: Do you have other ways you like to spend spare time on the road?

John Goble: If we get in the night before and the schedules work to where our partners get in early, we definitely like to break bread together. But for us, our blood is so thin, if we’re in the Midwest in January, we might be staying in the hotel.

SA: NBA officials don’t travel and work in static crews the way baseball deploys its umpires. What do you make of the impact that has on familiarity with your partners, covering for each other and communicating?

John Goble: When I first got on staff, you were broken down into four groups. Within your group, you had so many crew chiefs, so many part-time crew chiefs and then the less-experienced officials. The majority of the games, you worked within that group. A definite positive was you’d create a little synergy with each other. Our communication improves based on the amount of time we spend with each other. But contrary to baseball and even football, by not being in those groups and by working with everybody, you start to create a bond with many more people on the staff. As opposed to being next to “Joe Smith” and, despite both of us being in the league for years, never having worked a game with him. It’s like going to work and saying “Hi!” to someone down the hall in the same office building, but you never really know them.

SA: Basketball is fundamentally different from the others in the interaction of officials. In baseball, for example, a third-base umpire isn’t getting involved in bang-bang calls at first base or assessing the contact at second base on double plays.

John Goble: In NBA games, everybody’s working the plate every night. That’s where the time you spend together off the floor improves that trust we need. Sure, we have our mechanics and a system in place the way we officiate. But it’s having that team concept. Unlike maybe baseball or football, because our game is so fluid, you could be in the proper position and the play could be in your primary area of coverage, but let’s say some players get in front of you at the last second. That’s where that trust is involved. Your partner might be farther away but see the entire play.

SA: Based on what happened recently in Salt Lake City, what was a basketball situation looked like it was going to become a police situation between Russell Westbrook and a fan. Just in general terms, Jacyn, how much are the referees tuned into what’s going on between a player and someone in the stands?

Jacyn Goble: As far as fan interaction, even when there’s a timeout, we’re trying to observe everybody. Observe the scorer’s table, both benches, what sort of communication is going on between us and the teams. So we always try to keep our heads on a swivel to make sure we’re observing everything. But something like that, it definitely falls on the security personnel.

SA: Is there a protocol for how much you get in the middle of player skirmishes? Is that best to your judgment?

John Goble: We’re still observing after the whistle is blown, so if we see that two players maybe are starting to get a little feisty, if we can get in there and try to be a little preventative, say “Hey guys, hold on,” we will. We’ll try our best, but I’m not 6-9, 260.

Prior to replay, if I’m not mistaken, it was part of our policy to have one official stand back so they can observe everything. So they’d have more of a big picture view of what was going on.

Jacyn Goble: For me it is instinctive. It’s something I had to deal with for 14 years. I was with a specialized unit – we went after robbery and homicide guys – and it’s an instinct that you have. You just know. For me, it’s not the person who initiates it. It’s the person who retaliates – I try to get to him first.

SA: What do you miss most about being a police officer?

Jacyn Goble: It’s something we touched on when we talked about getting in early and being able to get dinner with [the other referees]. My unit, we were tight. We had five guys who were together for almost five years. We’d eat dinner. We had get-togethers at our houses, and we’d bring the families along. Just that camaraderie. I miss that.

SA: But you’ve still got partners on game night. And your whistle.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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