When it comes to college hoops, Chris King often has one of the best seats in the house. It's a perk of running alongside players as an NCAA men's basketball referee.

But when he’s not analyzing plays on the court, King is analyzing trends in consumer reporting as a project manager one of the Consumer Interaction Center at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., where he has worked for 18 years.

Chris King, ex-division II college basketball player, now analyzes trends in consumer reporting as a project manager at Coca-Cola headquarters.

Getting Court Time

Before he became a referee, King played Division II college ball, suiting up as a point guard for Barat College of DePaul. There, he admittedly did not have the best relationship with referees.

“I was the player referees didn’t like and I didn’t like them either,” King said. He had no qualms telling officials when they missed a call, which was quite often.  

The tables turned in 2000 when King began officiating rec ball at a local YMCA, hoping to make a little extra cash. “It was really just little kids running with the ball and bumping into each other," he recalls with a laugh. Nonetheless, he was quickly hooked on refereeing. He has since officiated an estimated 300 NCAA games, quickly moving from YMCAs to high schools, before breaking into Division I Men's Basketball, where he’s been for 15 years. He now works more than 30 games per season in mid-major conferences, traveling across the country to officiate games on the weekends.

King remembers his 2002 introduction to NCAA basketball through the fans who passionately argued his calls. It was a good icebreaker for what would become a core part of King’s experience as a referee. “Every time our whistle blows, 50 percent of the crowd loves you, and the other 50 percent hates you,” he said.

Coca-Cola project manager Chris King faces the passion and fury of NCAA fans every time he blows his referee whistle.

What keeps him going in the face of passionate and fiery fans? His own passion for the sport.

“I’m not just an official,” he says. “I’m a fan of the game.” As a referee, King proudly defends basketball's integrity. “Our job is to adjudicate the rules and make sure it’s a fair game," he adds.

Refereeing has further fueled his passion for basketball, particularly when he is rewarded with prime viewing for spectacular plays. King recalls one of his favorite games when a shorter point guard got a steal and “went in for a monster dunk on a seven-foot guy.”

He says, “As an official I am not allowed to show any emotion. I can’t go up to the guy and chest bump him, but I just remember saying to myself, 'This is what it’s all about!'”

Though as a referee he cannot emote, officiating does put King in a position to enjoy the boundless emotions of the fans.

"Painted faces, shirtless in sub-zero temperatures, long lines, wacky outfits and hilarious posters just to show their support," he said. "And I have a front row seat to enjoy all the madness!”

Chris King as referee connects with the basketball players because he was in their shoes before he joined Coca-Cola.

A Communication Game

Having been a college player himself, King feels “connected not only to the game of basketball but to the players.”

“I speak that dialect,” he says. Literally.

When players call out to the referees as King once had, he knows how to relate rather than just recite rules from the book. If a player expresses concern that someone is holding him, King acknowledges the situation using the language of a peer, “Hey bud, take it up, strong man. I’ve got you. You’re stronger than that.”

The same goes for coaches, with whom King practices “active listening.”

“It all comes down to being a good people person,” adds King, who believes that coaches and players “just want to be heard.” For King, “being willing to listen, knowing when to step up, learning how to make decisions and communicate tough calls” is critical to the role of referee, who must be understanding while projecting confidence.

For King, what works on the court also works in the corporate world. In both capacities, “people skills and effective communication are paramount," he explains, "as well as the ability to strategically make judgement calls.”

For King’s work with both basketball and Coca-Cola, communicating with fans is particularly important. He says, “As a project manager, I help empower the voice of our passionate Coca-Cola consumers, and present their valuable feedback to clients which helps to sustain our brands and protect the company’s trademark. We could not survive without passionate, and loyal Coca-Cola consumers. They are the fans of our products.”

“On the referee side,” King concludes, “fans, coaches, and players have that same passion for their favorite teams and alma maters!”

Coca-Cola, the official fan refreshment of the NCAA, is celebrating its 15th year as an NCAA Corporate Champion. As the official sports drink of the NCAA, POWERADE is on the sidelines of all tournament games to help participating teams hydrate and power through.