He is about 40 years old and has been on the job for seven years after attending college briefly. He gets paid about $35,000 annually but is required to travel as many as 120,000 miles in six months and work almost exclusively at night.

His office is any of the National Basketball Association's 22 home courts. He isn't hard to pick out; he's the guy in the striped shirt who everyone - players, coaches, trainers, ball boys, cops, ushers and fans - is yelling at.

Some games, all an NBA referee has to do is step on the court and the abuse begins. Visiting coaches immediately think he favors the home team: home coaches think he's loafing; players think he's out to get them; and fans, well they don't think he can do anything right, starting with combing his hair.

Already this year, he has been indirectly blamed for not regulating more effictively what NBA commissioner Larry O'Brien feels is increasing violence in the game. Some players and coaches believe he and his fellow officials aren't even as good as last year's group, which they though was barely competent.

But don't ask these players and coaches to criticize refs for publication. They know that will mean a fine because the NBA doesn't like to hear such people speak ill of its 26-man officiating corps.

Seven coaches already this season have forgotten that edict and have been required to enrich league coffers with enforced monetary contributions. This is what some of them said to earn their fines:

Indiana's Bobby Leonard: "I don't trust them (refs) and I don't have faith in them. There are only a couple I fell will accept what a coach says as part of the game. The rest hold a chip on their shoulder. They wait and burn you."

New York's Willis Reed: "The commissioner fines players; he should fine some of the officials. We have a legitimate complaint."

Denver's Larry Brown: "I'm losing my taste for this game. The officials have too much control, too big an ego. They have too much power. The refs go back to the hotel and it doesn't mean a thing to them."

Washington's Dick Motta: "It's not my job to make excuses for someone else's ineptitude. These guys are trying to take my paycheck and they think they've worked a good game to take it."

Players feel that the quality of league officiating is not equal to their talents. As one player put it, "You have high school officials calling a pro game. We've passed them by. You've got a few good ones but the rest are awful. And they've been awful as long as I've been in the league."

Does he see any way to make the situation better?

"Not unless they get rid of most of them and start all over."

What can be done about the caliber of officiating in the NBA?

"I think we are doing just about everything we can to improve it," said Norm Drucker, the NBA's supervisor of officials. "But you are never going to get perfection. The players aren't perfect and neither are we."

Drucker should know. He officiated NBA games 17 years around a seven-year stint in the American Basketball Association. He's seen the league expand from eight to 22 teams and from 11 to 26 officials. He's seen the players get bigger and everyone grow a lot more talkative.

"It's a reflection of society," he said. "Take the respect people have for our law-enforcement agencies. They think nothing of yelling at cops now. So why shouldn't they yell at refs? They got to yell at someone."

But Drucker also admits:

Adding a third official would help control games more efficiently "from a technical standpoint."

The quality of officiating was better when he first came in the league, "but's it's harder to get 26 goods refs than it was to get 11."

The great difference in ability between the top refs and worst is the reason behind many of the complaints from players and coaches.

"We've had two officials for 25 years. Baseball has gone to four umpires, football to seven officials but we haven't changed with the game. But don't think three officials will answer all the problems. They only would help."

But until NBA owners agree to absorb the increased cost (probably $400,000 annually) that adding a third official would mean, Drucker spends his days trying to elevate the level of consistency among his current refs.

"We have a preseason training and education camp," he said. "We meet and go over four game films a year with each ref. We have observers at many games and they file reports.

"We try to point out what is a legal pick, what is a brush foul. We work on their position on the court.

"But this is a different game than you have in college. That's what a lot of fans don't realize. This is a contact sport. We allow hand checking and they can go body to body on rebounding, things like that.

"Our younger guys, they don't have a classroom to learn like doctors or lawyers. They learn on the court, during games, and that is tough. It's not the ideal way.

"There is a lot of gray area out there and they have to learn how to handle it. Like when to call a technical. Sometimes a game takes over, like with a minute to go and it's close and a coach does something that should mean a technical.

"Do you want the game decided on a technical? No. So you swallow your pride and take a little more and let the players win or lose it."

About half the referees in the NBA are known as "lead" officials. They are the ones with the most experience and the higher degree of competence.

The fact that the remaining half are socalled "second refs" creates many of the officiating conflicts. Players and coaches know which member of a crew is the weaker and they will work on him, verbally, all night.

"Some nights, it's like a debating session out there," said Joe Gushue, whose 13 years in the NBA and four in the ABA qualify him for a lead official's role. "They jump on the younger guys and never let up. That's when I finally have to stepin and tell them, "That's it.'"

Gushue acknowledges that the browbeating does affect some of his younger colleagues.

"Everyttime he calls something, they will protest it and try to put doubt in his mind," he said. "They can't affect the call he just made but they are working on him for the next time. Pretty soon, he says to himself, 'Maybe I blew that one; I'll have to give them one the next time.'

"It's like a hazing period . . . It's a test of strength."

If the young officials pass the test, they can look forward to a long career. The seven oldest referees in the league have been around an average of 14 years, topped by Richie Powers, who is in his 20th season.

Those surviving 10 years get paid $43,000. Rookies begin at $20,000. Everyone alos receives $325 a month to cover all travel costs (food, cab fares, hotel bills, etc.) except air fair which the league pays.

In return, they must officiate at least 82 games a year. They aren't allowed to stay in the same hotels with teams and they usually travel alone.

It is during the sloppy games that players get involved in a scenario that Gushue labels "fool the ref." He says they know "who calls a tight game and who calls a looser one. So they play accordingly. They all have tricks and things they do when we aren't looking.

"But it still comes down to 90 per cent judgment. Fifty per cent with you and 50 per cent don't. What I don't want is a player who comes up to me and says, 'Last week, you let me do something and today you didn't.' I want to be consistent.

"I know there are coaches who blame every loss on refs. And I know coaches think we abuse our power to hand out technicals.

"But you have to do something to control a game. You can let things go so far and then that is it. I won't take profanity and I'll tell them, "That's enough talk. Do yourself a favor and stop it and save yourself some money ($75).'"

Earlier this year, Gushue says fans were complaining about too many whistles and too many technicals.

"They'd yell, "put your whistle away; we've come to watch the game.'"

But now after the league has had three major fights, he says things have changed.

"Every game, I hear them yell, blow your damn whistle. What do you want, another fight?'"

Then he laughed. "That's why you can't satisfy anyone in this business but yourself. You find that out early."