Former NBA summer league intern now makes calls as referee

The horn sounded and the first quarter of the summer league game between the Charlotte Hornets and Boston Celtics came to a close inside the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. A crew of interns wearing NBA Noche Latina T-shirts rushed the court to work in anonymity. In the summer of 2012, that would have been Lauren Niemiera's job here: ushering contestants to opposing free throw lines for a shooting contest, tossing plastic basketballs into the outstretched hands of fans and delivering statistics sheets to the coaching staffs.

She was so good at it, performing these humbling roles with such a presence, that she caught the eye of a league official who posed a question.

"He was like, 'Have you ever thought about getting into officiating?'" Niemiera recalled.

Niemiera, who will make her debut as a G League official next season, is the first former Las Vegas summer league intern to become a referee. Recently, she has returned to Vegas to officiate summer league games, as she did Monday afternoon when the Hornets and Celtics matched up.

Other interns who have worked the Vegas summer league have gone on to big-league jobs. Nick U'Ren serves as a special assistant to Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr. Also, Nicki Gross and Natalie Nakase became the only two women who worked as assistant coaches on separate G League staffs last season.

However, Niemiera's career arc has differed from her fellow interns because George Toliver saw something distinctive when he first met her.

"The way she did everything," said Toliver, the associate vice president of referee development in the NBA. "Everything she did was done in a manner that was absolutely solid ...'This task is not too small for me.'"

Toliver, the father of Washington Mystics guard Kristi Toliver, described Niemiera as having the "it" factor. Niemiera displayed the confident pose of an athlete, having played four years on the Bradley University women's basketball team then the golf team during her year as a graduate student. She looked coaches in the eye while handing out those stat sheets, and though this might have seemed like a small gesture, Toliver caught it.

Toliver believed Niemiera to be unflappable, a necessary quality in an official, and though Niemiera had not thought of officiating before meeting Toliver, she soon started taking it seriously and began her path.

After college, she got certified to ref in Illinois. She accepted a media relations job with the WNBA's Chicago Sky for the summers but also worked high school games in the winters. In 2015, Niemiera quit her job after being accepted into the NBA's Referee Development program, which trains eight students (four women and four men) over the course of several years to become league officials.

Now, back in Vegas, Niemiera, 27, is prepping for her first season as a G League referee, with the intention of climbing the career ladder to the WNBA and ultimately the NBA.

During her summer league games, she wore the gray V-neck with No. 64 on the back. Like all of the referees here, Niemiera was an unknown to the players so while officiating the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State game July 7, Warriors forward Jordan Bell asked for an introduction. She viewed it as a sign of respect but also recognized that players like to know referees' names so they can complain about calls.

Being a ref doesn't create the same reaction as her intern days.

"I went out there [Saturday] and I got a lot of boos," Niemiera joked. "Before I was throwing T-shirts into the crowd and everybody wanted what I had and now . . . when you blow a whistle, all eyes are on you and everybody is going to hate what you have, one way or another."

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