Suyash Mehta: From part-time job to becoming first Indian-origin referee in NBA

What started as a part-time job soon turned into a passion for Suyash Mehta, as it eventually saw him become the first Indian-origin referee in National Basketball Association (NBA). Since joining the world’s top-most basketball league, which features some of the sport’s MVPs like LeBron James, Steph Curry, the 29-year-old has gone on to officiate in several high-octane NBA matches.  

Reminiscing his journey from being a medical student to switching paths and choosing basketball as a career, Mehta describes it as one of the toughest decisions of his life, but something he has no regret about. 

However, one thing that took years for the 29-year-old was to convince his parents, a couple that migrated to the USA in the 1980s and had no knowledge about the NBA or in this case most of the sports. Mehta’s father Joginder Pal Mehta, who originally hails from Chandigarh, was a medical professional, while mother Sarita Mehta from UP Saharanpur was a botanist. 

“It was one of the toughest decisions of my life because that same year I had taken an MCATS to go to medical school. So that year when I got hired, I remember sitting down with my parents and having to explain to them that I may not be going to medical school. I’ll be pushing my decision until I pursue this. Fantasy or dream to perhaps one day become an NBA referee, that was a kind of start to the entire journey,” said Mehta during a virtual media meet on Thursday evening.  

Breakthrough to NBA  

Mehta’s initial years with kids in his neighbourhood and school were rough, with the former often being subjected to racist slurs, something which he feels still exists in society. However, the 29-year-old, said he felt extremely welcomed in NBA, with players and others coming and congratulating him after his historic feat. 

“It was not easy growing up as there was always a sense of non-inclusion whether in high school or sport. I do believe it is out there, but the experience of NBA has been a welcoming one,” said Mehta. 

Despite the mistreatment, the 29-year-old started playing the sport in school and even made some rare appearances for local clubs while at the University of Maryland.  

However, it was in 2013 when he took his first baby steps towards his dreams and declined to join a medical school after studying neurobiology and opted for an educational training camp with the NBA.   

“I was doing it as a part-time job in college and then we had this opportunity after college that allowed me to pretty much try out for the minor league, which is now the NBA G League,” said Mehta.   

Mehta, who grew up following game’s iconic referees such as Zach Zarba and Scott Foster, feels that his college roommate at Maryland and also an NBA referee like him, Gediminas Petraitis, played a huge role in assisting and helping him reach where he is today.  

“I would say that the most any person who helped me in being a referee was Petraitis. He was my roommate and having been selected for the NBA, he was my mentor and role model” said the 29-year-old.  

Dream come true moment  

Mehta, who was born in a family with strict Indian values, said it took a flight ticket to Las Vegas for his parents, where they saw him officiating his first match helped them realise his dream, and ever since there has been no looking back.  

Meanwhile, sharing his experience from his first NBA match, which saw Chicago Bulls take on Golden State Warriors at the United Centre, Chicago on December 27 last year, the 29-year-old said he just followed what his mentors asked him. 

“Though I treat every game the same and tell myself that I have to give my best, one of the things which my mentors told me when I got to my first NBA game was to take a look at the arena and that’s what I did. The only thought which came to my mind was that I hope that I will be part of such memorable games in the future,” recalled Mehta.  

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