He attended Newton High School in New York City, graduating in 1926.
Nucatola officiated some of the greatest games in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC), Atlantic Coast, Southern and Big 8 Conferences, along with the NCAA and NIT tournaments. He also dabbled in the professional arenas of the American Basketball League, Basketball Association of America, and the NBA. In 1952 and 1956 he officiated at the Olympic Games.
Nucatola was one of the original referees in the NBA when the league was organized as the BAA in 1946. Nucatola was one of the founding fathers of the College Basketball Officials Association and served as supervisor of officials for the Ivy League and the ECAC before being named NBA Supervisor of Officials. After retiring from the NBA, Nucatola became supervisor of officials in the Women's Professional Basketball League, in 1979.
In a life dedicated to the development of basketball and basketball officiating, Nucatola conducted more than 1,200 clinics worldwide, as well as authoring Officiating Basketball.
He was called basketball's "greatest official" by Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee. Nucatola believed the referee's most important duty was to make the right call rather than merely assert authority. He often urged officials to be willing to reconsider their calls, and was a strong advocate of the three-man officiating crew.
John Nucatola was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 1, 1978. In 1968 he was honored with the Metropolitan Award, given annually by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. In 1986 he received the NIT Official's Award. He is also a member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and New York City's Public School Athletic League Wingate Fund Hall of Fame.