When teams lose, especially close games, one of the main things fans gripe about are the referees.

That’s probably not news to anyone, but how often could that complaint be legitimate?

Depending on which team is your favorite, it could perhaps be sometimes, at least in the NBA.

There are plenty of ways in which what referees do can be measured, but on Friday, longtime NBA reporter Tom Haberstroh released the findings of research he conducted into which referees get assigned to which games.

The summary of his findings? The NBA regularly assigns its most experienced referees to games involving the league’s most high-profile teams.

How did Haberstroh come to this conclusion?

The NBA publicly announces the referee crews for every game, and Haberstroh took that information for every game played so far this season and broke it down into four categories by team:

  • Total games with rookie refs.
  • Total years of referee experience on games.
  • Total games with 2021 NBA Finals refs.
  • A metric he titled “referee rating,” which was calculated by which referees received which assignments for games (the crew chief is the most important, followed by the referee and then the umpire) compared to how long they have been working in the league.

Most notably, the data unearthed that the Los Angeles Lakers have gotten the most experienced referees this season by a pretty significant margin.

The Lakers lead the league both in total years of referee experience on games and total games with 2021 NBA Finals refs, and they are tied with the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers for fewest games with rookie refs (this might debunk the notion that these things matter given how badly the Lakers’ season has gone, but perhaps that’s a conversation for another day).

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The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, got the highest score in Haberstroh’s referee rating system, which means that the most experienced referees have most often been assigned to important roles for Warriors games.

The Orlando Magic, meanwhile, have had both the most number of games with rookie refs, and they got the lowest score in Haberstroh’s referee rating system.

The Houston Rockets have had the smallest number of cumulative years of experience on the crews that referee their games, while the Minnesota Timberwolves have had the fewest number of games with 2021 Finals refs.

The Utah Jazz are essentially right in the middle in all of these findings. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, the Jazz are 17th in referee rating, 16th in games with rookie refs, 12th in total years of experience on games and 12th in number of games with 2021 Finals refs.

Other notes from Haberstroh:

  • The top five teams in ref rating (Warriors, Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets) have been on national TV a combined with 80 times this season, while the bottom five (Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Rockets, Washington Wizards and Magic) have been on national TV just three times combined.
  • Games on ABC have gotten the most experienced crews.