Longtime NBA fans may know Joe Borgia from his days as a referee in the 1980s and 1990s.
NBA insiders know him from his time work in the league’s referee operations office.
Today’s fans recognize Borgia as the face and voice of the NBA’s replay center in Secaucus, New Jersey where reviews are conducted along with referees on the court.
Borgia was instrumental in ushering in the replay review era both as the senior vice president of replay and referee operations and the man who often explained rulings to fans watching on TV.
Thursday marked the end of Borgia’s 32-year career with the NBA.
In January, he informed NBA president of league operation Byron Spruell of his intent to retire after the 2020 Finals. That was before COVID-19 altered daily life and the NBA schedule, but Borgia is sticking to his plan.
“I’ve got a 19-month-old grandson,” Borgia told USA TODAY Sports. “I’ve been with the NBA 32 years. I’ve been married 33, but I’ve only been home for half of them. The time is just right for me to be home now. We’ve had a great run.”
Borgia grew up in a referee household. His dad, Sid Borgia, was one of the league’s first referees, officiating games from 1946-1966. Borgia’s brother, John, also reffed, and their dad later worked as supervisor of officials
“I lived my dream,” Borgia said. “I grew up in a referee family, and my dream was to be an NBA ref. I worked for it.”
Borgia started reffing games in the Continental Basketball Association before moving to the NBA. His NBA officiating career was cut short after a fractured vertebrae didn’t heal properly. He moved into management where he converted the NBA’s referee training development program over to the G League.
Five years ago, he was asked to head the replay center and was responsible for helping develop software that made replay review from a central location possible. In the following years, Borgia helped streamline the process so that reviews took less time.
And when broadcasters calling the game on TV needed an explanation, Borgia appeared on camera from the replay center to give an answer. Often seen standing in the replay center with his back to camera as he watched several TVs showing NBA games, Borgia joked that he wasn’t the face of the replay center but rather the "back of the head of the replay center."
Joe Borgia taking a closer look at a play. (Photo: Andy Marlin, USA TODAY Sports)
His work was valuable. "My management career was mainly because I was very good with the rules,” Borgia said. “By being a good rules person when it came time for replay – replay was about knowing the rules – that helped you.”
While some balked about reviews and the amount of time it took, Borgia insisted it was about getting the call correct.
“It was about transparency,” he said. “Some thought refs wouldn’t like replay because calls would get overturned and make them look bad. Our refs embraced it, saying, ‘If that’s a call I can correct at the end of a game whether that basket should be good or not, please let me correct it so I can sleep tonight.’ If you don’t make the correct call and that costs a team a game, you don’t sleep that night. You feel awful.”
This season, Borgia transitioned from the replay center to overseeing the coach’s challenge. Former referee Jason Phillips stepped into Borgia's old role and will be the main guy in the replay center.
In retirement, how will Borgia watch NBA games?
“I can’t watch it for fun,” he said. “I will be reffing a game, and I will be watching the replay saying, ‘C’mon guys. Hurry up. Let’s go.’”
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