Just in time for the playoffs, the NBA told its head coaches Saturday they may work without masks during games if they have been fully vaccinated.
Assistant coaches and players are still required to wear masks in the bench area. Head coaches — if vaccinated — may choose to go without masks after pre-game introductions through halftime, then again after halftime until the game concludes.
The memo, sent Saturday just a few hours before the postseason opener between Miami and Milwaukee and obtained by The Associated Press, also said that head coaches will have to wear masks during halftime, during warmups and shootaround before the start of the third quarter and postgame. If opposing coaches choose to meet briefly on the court after a game, masks are encouraged.
The updated policy is consistent with the way things have been trending in the NBA during the pandemic: Those who are vaccinated simply have more freedoms than those who are not. And coaches began taking advantage immediately, with Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer both coaching without masks in Game 1 of their series that started Saturday afternoon.
They weren’t the only ones. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue were both without masks for their teams’ Western Conference series-opening game Saturday afternoon. There were two later playoff games Saturday, with Boston at Brooklyn and Portland at Denver.
Coaches have needed to wear masks throughout games all season, and some even got calls from the NBA with a reminder to be more committed to keeping the masks over their nose and mouth. But for the playoffs, the league said it was making the mask change “to facilitate in-game coaching duties, and in light of vaccination rates among NBA head coaches” along with recent updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coaches will still need to participate in the NBA’s testing regimens, the league said.
More changes to NBA policy could be coming as the playoffs go along. The NBA hasn’t ruled out the possibility of arenas returning to 100% capacity for the NBA Finals in July. The league also is planning to evaluate whether teams can increase travel parties starting with the second round of the playoffs. Teams have been limited in how many staffers can travel to games throughout the season.