After initially saying that older coaches might not be able to return to the bench this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, NBA commissioner Adam Silver reversed course Thursday night.
Health experts have stated that people age 65 and older are most vulnerable to COVID-19, and the NBA has three head coaches in that category: the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, 71; the Houston Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, 69; and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Alvin Gentry, 65.
Silver initially said in an interview with TNT on Thursday, “There are people involved in this league, particularly coaches, who are obviously older people. … We’re going to have to work through protocols, for example, and it may be certain coaches may not be able to be the bench coach.
“They may have to maintain social distancing protocols, and maybe they can be in the front of a room, a locker room … with a whiteboard, but when it comes to actual play, we’re not going to want them that close to players in order to protect them.”
Gentry promptly told ESPN regarding Silver’s comments, “That doesn’t make sense. How can I coach that way? … (It’s not right that older coaches) should be singled out.”
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the NBA Coaches Association, then got in touch with Silver.
Carlisle told ESPN, “(Silver) admitted that he jumped the gun with his statement to TNT. The health and safety of our coaches is first and foremost. It’s entirely possible that an NBA coach in his 60s or 70s could be healthier than someone in their 30s or 40s.
“The conversation should never be solely about a person’s age. Adam assured me that we would work through this together to help determine what is both safe and fair for all of our coaches.”
Both D’Antoni and Gentry told ESPN they wouldn’t mind if the league made all coaches wear facemasks on the bench, but they didn’t want the league to force only the oldest coaches to wear masks.
Earlier Thursday, the NBA announced plans to restart the regular season on July 31, with 22 teams playing at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla. The teams will play eight regular-season games ahead of the playoffs, which could end as late as Oct. 12, the scheduled date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
The NBA season was suspended March 11 when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.