For one referee, path from Korea to the NBA wasn’t simple


Intae Hwang wished to play basketball. His dad and mom wouldn’t permit it.

He reached the NBA anyway.

Hwang took the final word leap of religion almost three years in the past: Move his household midway internationally, from their native South Korea to a brand new house in New Jersey, to observe his dream of changing into an NBA referee. He’s getting nearer to creating {that a} actuality, after working some preseason video games this month — together with Monday’s Washington-Charlotte contest — and is anticipated to get some assignments as a non-staff official through the common season.

“The NBA was just my dream,” Hwang mentioned in an interview with The Associated Press. “I watched it on TV, right? That’s it. I never, ever tried to get into the NBA by myself.”

Instead, the NBA discovered him.

Hwang has been an official for almost 20 years, and it wasn’t at all times simple; he bought head-butted by a coach in 2014, and he mentioned that left him evaluating his future. But he stayed within the recreation and was chosen by FIBA — the game’s worldwide governing physique — to be a part of the referee corps for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Much in the identical manner that NBA groups scout internationally for participant expertise, the NBA additionally scouts everywhere in the globe for refereeing expertise.

And from these Rio Games got here an invite from the NBA to come back to Las Vegas for Summer League in 2017. With that, Hwang’s journey actually started. The league continued following his profession after he returned to South Korea, constructing a relationship, and he ultimately had a choice to make.

“Intae showed an enormous amount of capacity for quick learning, quick application,” mentioned Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s senior vice chairman overseeing referees. “He had a dream to be a part of our program. He came over here and was part of our referee development program, which we used as a way in which he could learn language and culture. He entered our pipeline through merit, not with any promise. He moved over here without any promise.”

Hwang and his household moved to the U.S. in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic struck weeks later. Hwang, who exudes optimism, checked out that as a possibility — and through all these months with out basketball studied the G League and NBA video games, plus continued engaged on his command of English.

He’s been a G League official, now has some NBA preseason expertise, and that trajectory has him on a path towards changing into a full-fledged NBA ref.

“All he did was put in the work, day in and day out,” McCutchen mentioned.

Referees need to make split-second choices. That’s why, as soon as the invitation from the NBA got here, Hwang didn’t want lengthy to make up his thoughts.

“I just worried about my family, my wife and my son and daughter,” Hwang mentioned. “My wife sacrificed a lot, because she couldn’t speak English at all. Now she can (say) ‘thank you, hi,’ those kinds of things.”

But his household loves it right here. He’s grateful for the prospect. And though his dream of changing into a basketball participant by no means materialized — each his dad and mom had been athletes and so they wished extra from their son — he’s discovered his manner into the highest league on the planet anyway.

“I love basketball,” he mentioned.


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