by Jonathan Hodgson
(published: May 28, 2018)
Pat Fraher has found tremendous success in his career as an official, but he knows that it is his surrender to God’s will that establishes the greater plan for his life.
Fraher, 44, is a veteran of 17 seasons as a referee in the National Basketball Association (NBA), having worked more than 1,000 regular season games and 35 playoff games.
The native of Hastings, Minnesota was a multi-sport athlete growing up.
“Living in Minnesota, as the weather changed, so did the sports season,” Fraher remembers of his youth athletics.
Fraher was raised Catholic, went to church every Sunday and attended parochial school through eighth grade.
He was introduced to officiating early in his life when he worked an eighth-grade basketball game with his father, when he was just 15 years old. By 17, he worked his first high school varsity game.
He remembers feeling an instant connection with officiating.
“I became interested in officiating by watching my dad referee basketball, and umpire softball,” Fraher said. “One of his partners he worked with a lot was Kenny Mauer, who later went on to become the first referee from Minnesota to make the NBA.”
“From my very first call –which I probably got wrong- I knew that officiating was for me,” Fraher said.
The Continental Basketball Association (CBA) hired him at just 20 years of age; he spent seven years working in the CBA, the last four spent working double-duty after being hired by the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).
After Fraher had graduated from the University of Minnesota, was hired as an official by the National Basketball Association (NBA) before the 2001-02 season.
He explains how he balanced his faith with his remarkably fast rise in a job that carries a rigorous schedule and demands the ability to calmly work through high stress and high stakes situations on a nightly basis.
“My faith has helped me keep my ego from getting the best of me in my interactions with players, coaches and partners,” Fraher said. “I used to be cocky, reactive, and defensive. Now, I’m more patient, I don’t hold grudges, and I listen to people better.”
One thing that helps Fraher do that night-in and night-out, is his morning routine of reading scripture, which he says has developed into an “ongoing conversation with God throughout each day.”
Fraher says that Proverbs 3:5-6 has been important for him.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.
- Proverbs 3:5-6
“For me, trusting God becomes easier when we stop try to make sense out of everything ourselves,” Fraher said.
Working in the NBA since age 27, in a high profile role can come with both its benefits and the potential distractions that come as a result, but Fraher says he keeps his perspective on what matters.
“Faith keeps me grounded in the things that matter in life, like friends and family,” Fraher said. “Having both the financial means and time on my hands could have been a ticket to hell. Before coming to the Lord, I used to occasionally find myself in situations I should not have been in, but now I find more worthwhile causes to devote my time and money towards," he said.
Fraher now invests his available time into the lives and careers fellow officials. Fraher co-founded Elevate Officiating Camps with Darron George, an NCAA Div. 1 Men’s Baketball Tournament official. Elevate supplements the typical instruction that basketball officials receive in a variety of disciplines.
Helping other officials sharpen their skills is just one way that Fraher is passing on the same blessings that have come his way. Fraher has learned from the tutelage and mentorship of highly accomplished NBA officials.
Steve Javie was a referee in the NBA for 25 seasons, retiring in 2011 after working the NBA Finals and is now an officiating analyst for ABC & ESPN.
“Steve taught me a valuable tool for keeping my confidence on the court after having tough calls and having players trying to create doubt,” Fraher explains. “He said, 'In your mind, you're right until you see it on tape'. He knew doubt can contaminate our future decisions, and wanted you to trust yourself."
Ed Rush Sr. worked as an NBA referee for 32 seasons and was the director of officiating for the NBA from 1998 until 2003.
"Ed instilled the standard that I try to live up to on the court every
night,” Fraher said. “He told me that I should work as if I was teaching future NBA
referees by showing me an example of what to do and how to do it. It
gave me a sense of responsibility."
"I have found understanding the power of 'doubt and trust', and 'leading by example’, have applications in my officiating and in my faith,” he said.
Javie and Rush Sr. will both be in attendance at the 2018 Referees Embracing Faith (REF) Conference taking place on August 25 in Allen, TX.
Fraher will be the lead speaker at the conference that is being hosted by George. Javie and Rush Sr. will also be in attendance.
(Update: the 2020 Referees Embracing Faith Conference will take place August 15, 2020, streamed live on the YouTube and Facebook pages of Sport Officials Surrendered.)
Fraher encourages fellow sports officials of all sports, at all levels to get involved with their peers through avenues like the REF Conference and the forums offered by Sports Officials Surrendered saying, “these now give officials of all kinds an avenue to share their faith, encourage others in theirs, and ultimately spread the gospel.”
Fraher says that his message will be about taking the focus off of self and onto Jesus.
“I hope to introduce the idea of our ego being our biggest enemy, not only in officiating, but in our real life, and our spiritual life as well,” Fraher said. “It all comes down to selfishness, and is what keeps us from living according to the greatest commandment of loving others seeking a personal relationship with Christ, and ultimately surrendering their lives to His will.”
“I love the quote, ‘if you don’t hunger for Christ, you’re probably already full of yourself,” Fraher said.
Full of self is one thing that Pat Fraher is not. Though he is the man making the calls on the court, in life, Fraher aims to remain surrendered to Christ.