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 against the coronavirus.
Assistant coaches and players will still be required to wear masks in the bench area. Head coaches may choose to go without masks after pre-game introductions through halftime, then again after halftime until the game concludes.
The memo, sent Saturday morning just a few hours before the postseason opener between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks 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.
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.
Meanwhile, for the playoffs, the NBA is going to see its largest crowds of the season.
Miami announced Saturday that, starting with Game 3 of its series against Milwaukee on Thursday, it has increased capacity to 17,000 fans – basically double what it was planning to have for the start of the playoffs.
The Heat said the NBA, along with local government, approved increased seating capacity, and it would remain in place for the rest of the playoffs.
The 17,000 fans represent roughly 85% of the building’s capacity in Miami. The Boston Celtics said they are increasing attendance limits for Game 3 of their series against Brooklyn on Friday, and that for Game 4 on May 30 they will be at “near full capacity.”
New York planned on welcoming up to 15,000 fans for its playoff games at Madison Square Garden against Atlanta, with that series starting Sunday, and Utah is prepared to host 13,000 fans to start its series against Memphis, also beginning Sunday.
“You don’t realize how much you miss them. … It’s just great to see things sort of getting back to normal,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
More changes could be coming as the playoffs go along. The NBA hasn’t ruled out the possibility of having buildings able to return to 100% capacity for the NBA Finals in July, and the league is planning to evaluate whether teams can increase their travel parties starting with the second round of the playoffs.