SECAUCUS, N.J. — Tucked in the corner of the NBA’s Replay Center, not far from about 100 screens showing NBA action, is Joe Borgia’s office.
To the left of his desk sits a stack of takeout menus for local restaurants. On the floor behind his chair, boxes of snacks he purchased on a run to the nearby warehouse store.
Hey, you can’t watch basketball all night on an empty stomach.
It’s an ideal place to keep up with an 11-game schedule like Wednesday night, even for the guys who are there to work.
“I think everybody wished their garage looked like this to a degree,” referee Kevin Cutler said.
Borgia, the league’s senior vice president of replay and referee operations, is at the Secaucus office five or six nights a week. Every referee on staff is scheduled at least a couple times a season and he tries to make it comfortable, ordering dinner and putting out candy and gum, knowing they could be there eight hours or more.
The refs would rather be in an arena, surrounded by the irreplaceable energy and atmosphere of an NBA game night. But Borgia believes they like their Replay Center appearances.
“Some of these guys never see each other. Rarely do you get four guys together,” Borgia said. “If anything it becomes a problem for me, because sometimes they’ll want to come in the back and start talking and I’m like ‘Yo, yo, yo, you got to sit and watch your game!'”
Not to worry. He said there were 2,265 replays last season, and only three were probably wrong.
“I’ll take those odds,” Borgia said.
Cutler was one of four officials assigned to the center Wednesday, joined by Ken Mauer, Dedric Taylor and Nick Buchert. Borgia said the goal is to have one official for every two games.
They see the value of the Replay Center, not only for themselves but for their colleagues who are officiating the games.
“I think it just requires a different skillset really, kind of fine-tune yourself with rules and things of that nature because you really can’t make the mistake in here,” Buchert said. “The way I look at it is they’re counting on me to help them make a decision and if I make an improper decision — which I hope I don’t — then it reflects poorly not only on them but on myself.”
Younger officials may be scheduled more often, while Mauer, who has worked 18 NBA Finals games and is currently the league’s longest-tenured official in his 32nd season, won’t be sitting at a desk much because the NBA wants its best officials on the floor.
His replay rust was obvious, as he violated Borgia’s rule about not eating at his terminal.
“Would I rather work a game? Yes, but I understand the importance of this,” Mauer said, “so really I come in here and see a different perspective of what people are looking at and maybe I’ll pick up something.”
He and Cutler worked the Celtics-Nets game in Brooklyn on Tuesday, then remained in the area for replay duty. It’s a work day but first a chance to catch up on rest and paperwork on what’s become practically a daylong job on game days.
“On game days we have the whole morning routine where we have our morning meeting, and then we usually meet for lunch, and then we have to be at the arena about an hour and a half before the game,” Taylor said. “So being in the Replay Center, you got pretty much the entire day for yourself.”
There’s a movie theater and numerous restaurants in the plaza outside the NBA offices, and pool, Ping-Pong and foosball tables in the lobby along with a Pop-a-Shot arcade game.
Once it’s time to work, referees join replay managers and technicians who have games on screens in front of them, noting plays that could be reviewed. They yell to the officials sitting nearby when they could be called into action to take a second look at a foot on the line or dangerous contact, such as when the crew in New Orleans wanted to see if DeMarcus Cousins committed a flagrant foul when he drove into Kyle Lowry with his knee high, a play that ultimately was ruled a common foul .
This is the third season the NBA has used referees on staff in the Replay Center, and their responsibilities have grown in hopes of shortening the time to make a ruling. There were 34 reviews recently, just shy of what Borgia said is the record for one night.
And with each one, the referees are getting a chance to look at how their colleagues called plays they may face themselves later in the season.
“It’s like being a chef, and you’re in the kitchen with other cooks. You get a chance to watch other people cook,” Cutler said.
And nobody boos them.
“I don’t think so,” Mauer laughed, “unless I get one wrong here.”
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