When Matthew Kallio was playing basketball growing up in Edmonton, he dreamed of playing for Canada at the Olympics. He imagined himself in the NBA.
By Steven Sandor | June 14, 2021
He’s achieved both of his dreams — as a referee. Kallio is scheduled to officiate the women’s and men’s basketball tournaments at the Tokyo Games. Kallio has been refereeing WNBA games for two seasons and, this past December, made his NBA debut as a non-staff NBA referee. He put on the grey shirt for a game in Denver between the hometown Nuggets (and Canadian star Jamal Murray) and the Portland Trailblazers.
“They are that talented, that athletic and that unreal,” Kallio says of being on the floor with NBA stars. “It’s amazing to see how strong, quick and talented they are when you’re 10 feet away from them. It is a different vantage point than the broadcast view on SportsCentre.”
Kallio admits that, had someone gone back in time 15 years, to when he was playing basketball at Grant MacEwan (before it became MacEwan University), and told him he’d be a world-class ref, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“I was a competitor as a player, so I had my times and moments where I had disagreements with referees,” he says. “But that’s what fueled me to get into officiating. I felt that I could do it well. There’s some naiveté at the beginning, thinking I can do it better than you can, but it was through the journey that I saw there were so many comparable aspects to improving as a referee as there was to playing.”
He rose to the rank of vice-president of the Edmonton Basketball Officials Association and he recalls working games with Orville Chubb, the late publisher of this magazine whose passion for hoops was well known in the city. He was a former president of the EBOA.
“There were games that Orville probably wondered what the heck this kid was doing,” Kallio remembers.
But Kallio also recalls being “self-competitive” to challenge himself to become a better ref. Six years ago, he went through four tryouts and worked the NBA Summer League before being offered a deal to work in the G-League, the NBA’s farm-team circuit. This year, he got word he was being held in reserve to work NBA games.
“It’s the quiet work,” he says. “It’s no different than the kid who goes alone to the gym and puts up 500 jump shots in order to get better. No one else knows you did that work, but it helps.”
In Tokyo, Kallio won’t be allowed to officiate any games that involve Canada. That doesn’t just include games Canada is in, but games that could directly influence how Canada finishes in its group. He says, because he works in the United States, that he may also be barred from reffing games that involve the Americans. “Neutrality is a big deal in international basketball.”
Still In Touch
Kallio still keeps in touch with basketball referees in Alberta, sometimes just by jumping on Zoom calls and talking about his experience in the game.
“Really, that’s something I’ve taken to and enjoy the most, and that’s the education piece, trying to grow the game and educate our referees.”
He’s also been invited to Basketball Alberta’s coaching clinics, where he talks about how referees interact with players and coaches.
“We do that as referees all the time: You’ve got someone yelling at you, but how are you going to be a professional?”
This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Edify