LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The two NBA head coaches might be best known for their innovative offenses and laid-back personalities. But now, Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, 69, and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, 65, are also known as the first NBA coaches to wear masks while coaching a game, out of safety concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s important to Houston and a lot of the country. Right now, they should be masked up,” D’Antoni said following the Rockets’ scrimmage against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. “We do it for Houston. We do it for you. I do it for my players. I do it for my coaches. I just feel like it’s the thing to do right now with where we are as a country.”
The Center and Disease Control (CDC) has recommended people wear masks both to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and to help prevent passing the virus onto others. Still, President Donald Trump has often refused to wear a mask in public and several local governments and businesses have had mixed results in getting people to wear them.
Health officials have attributed a person’s refusal to wear a mask as a significant reason for the country’s increasing infection and death rate.
“It’s a statement saying we think it’s important enough even down here to have on a mask,” Gentry said after the Pelicans’ scrimmage against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. “We’d like to send a message out to everybody that if we’re going to get this thing under control, I do think that this makes a big difference.”
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The NBA has required players, coaches, staff members and reporters to wear masks and obey social-distancing rules in public settings. As stated in the league’s health and safety protocols, however, players and certain coaches are exempt from wearing a mask during certain circumstances. Players and coaches on the first row of the bench do not have to wear a mask during the game, while coaches and inactive players on the second row of the bench are required to do so.
The league guidelines recommends coaches wear a mask before and after the game so long as it does not interfere with their ability to do their job. Players, the head coach and up to four assistant coaches are also exempt from wearing a mask during individual and team workouts. All other staff have to wear masks during team practices.
Gentry, D’Antoni and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, 71, have worn masks during practices. Popovich has not been a head coach during scrimmages since he has delegated those duties to assistants Becky Hammon (Friday vs. Milwaukee), Mitch Johnson (Saturday vs. Brooklyn) and Will Hardy (Tuesday vs. Indiana). But Popovich wore a mask on the bench during those games.
During Friday’s game against the Bucks, Popovich occasionally talked with a player during stoppage time. Otherwise, he kept a respectful distance as Hammon led the group in huddles and handled rotations.
New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry and Houston Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni talk after a 2019 game at the Smoothie King Center. (Photo: Derick E. Hingle, USA TODAY Sports)
“The referees can’t tell what I’m saying,” D’Antoni quipped. “That’s good.”
Gentry was just as vocal with officials and his players while wearing a mask.
“We got all the young kids looking at the game – they can see that it’s not really restrictive in any way to have a mask on,” Gentry said. “I was fine with it.”
Will this prompt the other 19 NBA head coaches in the bubble to wear a mask during games, too?
“I think they might,” Gentry said. “I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do. We’re not required to do it or anything. I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
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