MIAMI – For NBA coaches, masks are required this season. Jackets are not.
Rules for coaching attire will be relaxed by the league this year, though not as much as was the case during play at the bubble at Walt Disney World this past summer. Suit jackets or sport coats will not be required — as was the case in the bubble, when most coaches wore polo shirts and many said they preferred that option.
The new league mandate, as detailed in a memo sent to coaches Sunday and obtained by The Associated Press, requires “business attire ... dress shirts, pants, socks, and shoes.” There’s no mention of ties, which some coaches have often gone without in recent years, but an exception is made for polo shirts as long as they are NBA-licensed and the head coach and all assistant coaches are wearing the same shirt.
The biggest change, though, is the masks, a decision made with safety in mind as the coronavirus pandemic rages on and NBA teams prepare to play in arenas again for the first time since last season was suspended on March 11 when Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive.
“The NBA has always been a dynamic business and the challenges we face in society right now with COVID, it only amplifies the dynamic nature of our business," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, told AP on Tuesday night. “You have to be able to adapt, you have to be looking for solutions ... and we're going to make it work."
The NBA preseason begins Friday and the regular season starts Dec. 22. The NBCA discussed the changes in a call with the league Tuesday night, and some teams will begin traveling for preseason games Thursday.
“Wear a mask at all times," Carlisle said when asked how he's preparing for the challenges that will come with traveling again for games. “That's your No. 1 shield. And No. 2, be alert and follow the protocols. It's an incredible amount of work to not get COVID. You've got to work extremely hard to try to stay out of harm's way and there are never any guarantees. But if you work at it you have a chance."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich wore masks for games in the bubble this past summer, as did former Houston coach Mike D’Antoni and former New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry. They are all 65 or older, and at more risk of contracting the virus based on guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now, masks are a mandate for all coaches, regardless of age.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he hopes the move by coaches will further normalize mask-wearing among the public; the Heat were part of a campaign across Florida last summer, as virus numbers were soaring, to get people to wear masks.
“That’s why I continued to wear masks during the playoffs, during the finals, even when we were not required to wear them during our media sessions,” Spoelstra told The Associated Press. “One, it became a habit. And then two, we want to continue to use our platform to make people aware that masks can and do make a difference. And if they see us wearing them all the time and not having a problem with it and understanding the importance of it, hopefully that can normalize it everywhere else.”
It’s not just a game-night rule. The league, with limited exceptions, also will require coaches to wear masks “at all times” inside their team facility, while traveling and during practices.
“Although I look very good in a suit and tie, I will admit, I’m also very, very comfortable wearing a Nuggets polo and a pair of TravisMathew athletic leisure wear pants,” Denver coach Michael Malone said last season during play in the bubble. “I think I’ve done a very good job with the look.”
Alas, the athletic pants — “athleisure” is the term the NBA uses — must be shelved for game nights this season.
The decision on coaches wearing masks comes not long after the league and the National Basketball Players Association decided on health and safety protocols for the coming season, including how teams that do not comply with league rules designed to minimize the spread of the coronavirus could face major penalties such as forfeiting games or draft picks.
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