There’s never been a performance-enhancing drug (PED) controversy in the National Basketball Association. That hasn’t been the case for Major League Baseball, or the National Football League, where suspensions and recriminations followed the very best players like a foul fart. Nor have elite athletes in solo sports like track and field and cycling avoided the ignominy of PED aspersions and the ensuing stripped medals and trophies. But the NBA has survived, its reputation largely unscathed.
There’s some conjectural evidence drugs are a lurking leviathan for the league, and at least one high-profile figure used some suppositional logic to grouse that PEDs are more prevalent than the public knows. None of that has seemed to matter, though. These drugs are not a thing like they were with baseball and football and the sprinters and the bicyclists with calves like veiny, inverted bowling ball pins.
Plus, the smattering of players who have tested positive for some form of steroid or amphetamine––Don MacLean, Matt Geiger, Soumaila Samake, Lindsey Hunter, Darius Miles, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, O.J. Mayo, and most recently Joakim Noah––is so small, the entire squad couldn’t field a full pickup game (but holy hell, what a fun 4-on-4 matchup that would be.)
The NBA doesn’t have a PED problem because ”even when players do not test positive, usually there is some chatter that there is something going on.”
Commissioner Adam Silver said that about PEDs in the NBA a year ago. Even if a player’s test comes back negative, there’s usually some “chatter” if they’re doping.
The statement was part of an answer to a question he’d been asked about former coach George Karl, who had released an autobiography with a cute title: Furious George. In the book, Karl––curiously––went all Col. Kilgore in the morning on any future coaching gig when he personally attacked former players Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith.
He also accused the NBA of “having a drug problem, though a different one than 30 years ago.” Here’s the rest, which you probably already read a year ago:
"I’m talking about performance-enhancing drugs—like steroids, human growth hormone, and so on. It’s obvious some of our players are doping. How are some guys getting older—yet thinner and fitter? How are they recovering from injuries so fast? Why the hell are they going to Germany in the offseason? I doubt it’s for the sauerkraut.
"More likely it’s for the newest, hard-to-detect blood boosters and PEDs they have in Europe. Unfortunately, drug testing always seems to be a couple steps behind drug hiding. Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test.”
The dig at the coke days notwithstanding, it sounds well reasoned. Except, you know, without any actual evidence or details. Or—most importantly––any names. Remember, MLB and the NFL always had names—stars overfed columnists could lash into with moral outrage.
But there’s no chatter. None that’s credible at least. I would have heard about it. If not me, other people. If not them, someone else. It would have been discovered and teased out. Someone would have nabbed that story. Right?
Helpfully, Silver expanded on the chatter matter:
“Other than what George Karl wrote in his book, there is no chatter whatsoever in the league. Obviously, many reporters are in this room who cover the NBA; presumably if they thought there was an issue, they would be writing about it.”
Presumably; Very likely, but not certain.
There have been articles debunking the myths about how PEDs don’t mesh with basketball players because brute strength and muscle––the traditional, Ben Affleck-inspired example of ‘roids––clashes with the prototypical lean, athletic body that floats over the NBA hardwood. Anyone who actually knows about PEDs knows that’s hooey. There are well-researched articles explaining the rationale and benefits of modern PEDs in basketball while debunking the efficacy of the testing––even the current HGH testing, added before the 2015-16 season. Most of it matches up with Karl’s inferences.
Then there are the conspiracy-laden reddit threads and the Quora question about LeBron James, which one could also call online chatter, but also demeaning to LeBron’s hard work and God-given talent. Still chatter. Mindless, unscientific, biased, uninformed chatter.
There are other recent examples that could be misconstrued as PED chatter. Like when Derrick Rose seemed to confirm a high level of juiced NBA players in an ESPN The Magazine article, but then reneged when the article was published and claimed he didn’t remember the question. Around the time of Karl’s book dropping, Rip Hamilton said there “might be an issue” with PEDs.
What’s increasingly clear––and the biggest reason a PED scandal hasn’t derailed fan’s trust in the NBA, like it has MLB and the NFL––is NBA fans don’t really care anymore. Neither does the media. If there’s widespread PED use in the NBA, then it’s a very well-kept secret. But it would probably get out. This isn’t the 1990s. Or even the early aughts. Snapchat would get them. Or IG stories.
Despite enough speculative evidence that an investigation is probably deserved, who wants that hassle? Who will care if a ton of legwork reveals an uncomfortable truth that only tarnishes everyone involved?
If LeBron or a superstar of his ilk—OK there’s no one of his ilk right now—but if a regular NBA superstar, like Anthony Davis, was rumored to be involved in a PED scheme, I’m not sure there would be much anger from fans. Certainly not the condemnation lobbed at MLB, the NFL, Olympic sprinters and cyclists who the media hypocritically venerated a few years earlier. If Brow got busted for PEDs, the only reaction might be a newly named cocktail on Bourbon street: Steroid Spritzer Yeager Brows.
That’s because we’re collectively burned out as fans. And a lot of NBA fans don’t remember as clearly. The NBA, particularly online, skews young and progressive.They don’t remember the PED hysteria at the turn of the millennium and a generational gap in baseball’s Hall of Fame. And if they do, they don’t care. That purity of the game crap is what mom and dad cared about––I just wanna be entertained.
There isn’t a PED problem in the NBA. Despite enough speculative evidence that an investigation is probably deserved, who wants that hassle? Who will care if a ton of legwork reveals an uncomfortable truth that only tarnishes everyone involved? The players and teams know what they’re putting in their body more than we ever will, and it’ll likely only help to prolong and ameliorate their career. Remember, at its bare, capitalistic bottom, the NBA is a business and these players are an expensive investment.
There’s no PED scandal in the NBA, even if there might be PEDs.