Perth man Chris Dodds is living the dream as a basketball referee – and is inviting others to do the same.
Nineteen years of officiating have enabled Chris, 50, to travel the world and share the basketball court with superstars such as Lebron James and the late Kobe Bryant.
This Sunday he will be scrutinised by 17,000 fans at London’s O2 Arena as one of three referees for the British Basketball League (BBL) playoff final between Leicester Riders and London Lions.
Chris, who lives at Bridge of Earn, aims to address a post-Covid shortage of referees by highlighting the incredible opportunities for sports referees.
“There are only six countries in Europe that I have not refereed in,” he says. “I also got to referee at two Commonwealth games – in 2006 and 2018, which both conveniently happened to be in Austrlia.
“I have refereed at three World University Games and I have also refereed at two senior European Championships called Eurobasket.
“If someone had told me, when I did my first refereeing qualification in 1993, that I would referee in the Commonwealth Games, at 11 British BBL finals and get to referee on the same court as the US Olympic gold medal-winning team the guys in the white jackets would have locked me away.
“That was not the ambition but through all the stages of the basketball pathway I was able to carry on and really enjoy it.
“Now I want others to have that opportunity as well.”
Chris’ story is split into the following sections:
- Childhood inspiration
- In charge of Kobe and Lebron
- Tayside basketball boom
- ‘Massive occasion’ on Sky Sports
- How youngsters can ‘live the dream’
As a youngster in Edinburgh, Chris Dodds was inspired to take up basketball by his uncle Guthrie Wilson, who played for the dominant Boroughmuir Barrs team of the late 1960s and 1970s.
Guthrie played for Scotland more than 60 times and won numerous caps for Great Britain including in the 1976 pre Olympic tournament.
“My uncle began my childhood fascination with basketball. I used to go through all his winners’ medals and trophies at my Grandma’s house,” says Chris, who also used to watch basketball games at Meadowbank involving Murray International Metals, owned by the latter-day Rangers chairman David Murray.
Chris, a forward, went on to emulate Guthrie by representing the Barrs for 10 seasons, beginning when he was a teenager.
“The game was always short on volunteers and officials,” he said. “I was a member of the regional committee and I did a referees’ course to help with the shortage.
“After a couple of seasons I realised maybe more of my skills and my future was involved in officiating rather than playing. I was 26.”
In charge of Kobe and Lebron
Three years later, in 2001, he was invited to the BBL to officiate the top-level men’s league. In 2003 Chris achieved his international licence and qualified as an international referee.
He was a busy man – refereeing every week in the UK and also frequently abroad.
One of the highlights was officiating – alongside two others – a pre Olympics exhibition match between the US and Great Britain at Manchester Arena in July 2012.
Chris makes a few understandable admissions about the game, which was played in front of 18,000 people.
“Playing for America were Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and all the major superstars. It was a privilege to referee that game.
“We were professional but were a bit starstruck. It was an incredible, surreal experience.
“We got to speak to them during the game and had a conversation with Kobe at half time on the differences between the NBA type of officiating and the international rules. You never forget these things.
“Never mind the American superstars, there were also two Scots in the Britain team. These were Kieron Achara and Robert Archibald, who grew up in Dunfermline and became the only Scot ever to play in the NBA.
“For a Scottish referee to be refereeing the best players in the world, as well as the two Scots playing for Team GB at the time, was a very proud moment.”
Tayside basketball boom
Chris concedes that “refereeing doesn’t pay the mortgage” but he has managed to contribute to the sport in his day job as well.
In 2004 he moved to Perth to become basketball development manager for Tayside and Fife, running courses and working with local authorities and schools to promote the sport.
“We grew the game,” Chris says. “There are a lot more clubs and they are a lot more sustainable.
“We had numerous boys and girls who came through Tayside who have been picked for under 16 and under 18 games.
“We grew the volunteer workforce, grew the coaching and officials. Basketball was upward.”
‘Massive occasion’ on Sky Sports
Chris retired from international refereeing in 2020 but remains active domestically.
This Sunday’s match, to be screened live on Sky Sports, will be the third BBL playoff final he has refereed, after 2011 and 2019.
“It will be a massive occasion,” Chris says. “You do get nervous but referees also have their pre game routine to visualise situations that give you confidence.
“Refs have scouting reports – not just clubs have them. We will look at teams’ style of play, individual players, trends and offensive styles, the way they communicate and will envisage situations.
“The three of us will discuss how we manage that. You don’t just turn up with a whistle and let things happen. There is a lot of preparation that goes into performance refereeing.”
How youngsters can ‘live the dream’
Chris says he has benefitted in many different ways from being a referee, and would encourage others to do the same.
“As a person officiating has helped me a lot with communication, conflict management, decisiveness and confidence away from the court,” he explains.
“A lot of people who did volunteer or officiate and gave up their time to help sports haven’t necessarily returned after Covid.
“Next season Basketball Scotland and the referees community are facing challenges because there are lots of teams, the sport is growing and more people are playing than ever, which means we need more referees and volunteers.
“Sport needs these volunteers back and there is a lot for volunteers and officials to gain by coming back.
“It is not like athletics, swimming or bowls where you are using measuring tapes. We are an integral part of the game. We are on the floor, we’re fit and are part of that spectacle of five top class athletes on court playing against each other.
“Refereeing is a sport within a sport so I would encourage anyone, if they want to be a referee, to go for it. You might not make it as a player but you can still live the dream as a referee.”
Chris says those who are interested in refereeing and coaching can speak to their local club chairman or committee, or regional basketball officer. The Basketball Scotland website also has a list of useful contacts.