The NBA's decision to resume the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World comes with plenty of contingencies. Among them is the possibility of asking coaches aged 60 or older to keep their distance from players, including in games.
That proposal hasn't sat well with some of the oldest and most respected coaches in the league, including Houston Rockets boss Mike D'Antoni and New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry, two sexagenarians who fear what being left out of the bubble could mean for their careers.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe, the two longtime NBA coaches have expressed publicly and privately that being left off their bench or the Disney bubble altogether could “become death knells” to their careers.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is in a similar but less fragile position. The 71-year-old has coached the Spurs to 22 straight playoff trips and has been at the helm for 24 years as the longest-tenured coach in the league.
His job isn't at risk due to his legacy, as well as his deep-rooted front-office influence, but D'Antoni and Gentry are a different story.
D'Antoni is in the last year of his contract with the Rockets, with no extension in sight after not coming to a deal in discussions this past summer. Gentry got the nod to stay with New Orleans even after a new regime took over in 2019. Yet missing out on the playoffs could push the lever the opposite way, especially if he can't take a seat on the bench for the foreseeable future due to potential health risks.
People over 60 years old or those who have a more compromised immune system could be at higher risk for infection.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed unanimously that the NBA could not exclude any personnel from participating in the bubble solely on basis of age:
“You can't base an adverse employment decision solely on the possibility that someone's age puts them at higher risk to get sick, or have more serious symptoms,” Robert Weisberg, regional attorney at the EEOC's Miami office, told ESPN.
The NBA is hoping to minimize potential infections and is tasked with coming up with the best options to avoid putting lives at risk. The league plans to subject all team personnel, regardless of age, to a medical review, but there is no clear indication if that screening would aid matters when it comes to older coaches like D'Antoni, Gentry, and Popovich.