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Calgary referee Michael Whelan works a game at NBA summer league in Las Vegas July 14, 2010. He is trying out. Credit: Bryan Haraway / Getty Images / for The Globe and Mail (Bryan Haraway)
Calgary referee Michael Whelan works a game at NBA summer league in Las Vegas July 14, 2010. He is trying out. Credit: Bryan Haraway / Getty Images / for The Globe and Mail (Bryan Haraway)

NBA Summerleague

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It's not just in the casinos on the Strip where some dreams are being realized and others shattered.

A few kilometres east, on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, basketball prospects and former stars alike are playing in the NBA Summer League this week, hoping to show a team they're good enough to fill out a roster as the 12th or 13th man this coming fall.

Then there's Michael Weiland.

The 29-year-old from Calgary is here working as a referee and similarly trying to show he's got enough game to officiate at the NBA level. The odds are impossibly long. In the league's long history, it is believed that no Canadian has officiated an NBA game.

"It's always been a dream of mine," Weiland said.

To get there, he had to get it done here in his three game assignments - an overtime thriller between Dallas and Milwaukee, and a couple of one-sided affairs as Denver routed Chicago and the Bulls hammered the Los Angeles Clippers.

"It's been a great week," Weiland said. "I knew it would be faster and quicker here and the biggest challenge is not just the speed of the game and the athleticism, but the fact that where normally I'd have a full second to make a call and get it right, here that second becomes a split second and the pressure to get it right is even greater than normal."

Michael's father John officiated internationally for more than 20 years, including assignments at the world championships, Pan Am Games, European championships and the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and served as the long-time assigner for the Calgary Basketball Officials Association.

Michael played at St. Francis High and started refereeing at age 15, working his way up through recreational, high school and community college leagues. Five years ago, he began to work CIS games and last summer earned his card from FIBA, basketball's world organizing body.

"I had actually refereed hockey when I was 12," he said. "But hockey parents tend to be a little nuts. ... After I graduated high school, I decided [refereeing]was a way to stay connected to basketball and also a good transition for me since officiating runs in my family."

Two hundred officials applied to the NBA Development League's tryout camp in Chantilly, Virginia, in early June, and 60 were selected, Weiland among them. A couple weeks later, he received a call from the NBA. Would he be available to work the Vegas Summer League? Eighteen men and women had been chosen.

"When they called to invite me, it was an emotional thing for both me and my dad," Weiland said. "I had no idea how I had done in Virginia. But when I got the call, it told me I had performed well."

In Las Vegas, the NBA's referee evaluation staff scrutinized his every move, each trip down the floor.

"First, we're looking for fitness and athleticism - can that person handle the physical pace of keeping up with the play?" said George Tolliver, the NBA's supervisor of officials for the D-League. "Second, we're looking for court presence. How do they project themselves? How do they conduct themselves with the players and coaches and how do they interact with their fellow officials?

"Finally, there's play calling. Are they showing the ability to read and make the right calls?"

In the second quarter of the Bulls-Clippers game, the Clippers' Trey Johnson steamrolled Chicago's James Johnson going to the hoop. However, James Johnson had not established position and Weiland, who was in the right spot underneath the basket, saw the play clearly. He called a block on the Bulls forward, sending Trey Johnson to the foul line.

It's one of the toughest calls for a basketball official to make. But Weiland appeared to have gotten it right.

It is league policy not to publicly evaluate its officials but of Weiland, Tolliver said: "Mike's got a positive skill set. He's not a guy we looked at and said, 'Oh, my God, what did we do here?' He belongs here this week.

"When Mike came to Virginia in June, he passed the first interview. Now, he's here in Vegas on his second interview."

The plan is to hire 10 to 12 new referees in September to work in the D-League this fall. If Weiland were to get one of those precious assignments, he'll earn anywhere from $375 to $1,000 (US) per game. More importantly, by continuing to progress over the next five years, he could be hired to work an NBA season as a salaried staff member.

"For me, it would be a sense of pride and accomplishment," he said. "There are only 60 NBA referees in the world and to be included in that club would be amazing."

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