Medicinal marijuana should be permissible for professional athletes — it’s relatively easy to make the case for legal recreational usage, too — but it’s obviously not like the ban on weed really serves as a be-all, end-all deterrent. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Blazers appeared on Jim Rome’s Showtime program last week, and Rome tried to bait the Blazers forward into a bloggable soundbite by asking what percentage of NBA players would fail a drug test if they were surprised with it tomorrow morning. “Zero percent,” Aldridge quipped.
The 6’10” shot blocker was leaving AV nightclub in Hollywood this weekend … when we asked him if he thought the NBA would ever ease up on players using marijuana. Serge’s response: “I don’t know … I’ve never used it so I don’t know.”
To a degree, the Miami Heat couldn’t help but get caught up in that swirl (but not the smoke). First, because they were involved in the last game in Denver when marijuana sales still were illegal, and second, because two members of the team also are officers in the National Basketball Players Association. For now, and for the foreseeable future, the NBA will continue to stand for NoBodyAllowed when it comes to partaking in Colorado’s newest participant sport, with the collective-bargaining agreement calling for mandatory testing and penalties for usage. “Nothing,” a league spokesman said, “has changed.”
“With me and other athletes caught using drugs, you get labeled as a problem. ‘He’s crazy. He can’t do this or that,’ ” Harrison said. “At the end of the day, I’m still going to be mad about the money I missed out on, but it’s a changing thing, it’s ever-changing, the law, and eventually we’ll see how stupid it is to spend (millions of dollars) to put people in jail for smoking a plant. “At the end of the day, it’s all about money (in sports), and who makes it. Marijuana isn’t making the majority of these people money yet, and the second that they can, you’ll see the restrictions come down. It’s all about money. It’s always about money.”
But then I think about David Harrison. He’s one of the greatest basketball players in University of Colorado history, 13th all time in scoring, ninth in rebounding. He was ahead of the curve too, outspoken about NBA players smoking pot, which he did primarily for pain relief due to a shoulder injury (and also because, well, pot makes people feel awesome). But he’s now a 7-foot pariah. After serving a five-game suspension for pot use, and actually being league-mandated to go to rehab for pot, his NBA career flamed out. “They don’t see me as a commodity. They kind of see me as a crazy person, I guess,” said the 31-year-old Harrison, who’s holding onto his fleeting NBA dream. ” ‘The Hunger Games’ is pretty much an anecdote of being an athlete. Gladiators. You show disdain for the government or the rules, they’re going to make an example out of you the best they can, to teach the thousands of people watching on TV the lesson they’re trying to teach you.”
It was the morning of a 2010 playoff game, and one of the Nuggets had just smoked some nuggets. As the team practiced, the player was so high that Rex Chapman, a team executive at the time, had to pull him aside to get him to focus. “Across all walks of life and in every profession, people smoke (marijuana). This is no secret, and pro sports are not exempt,” said Chapman, who played 12 years in the NBA. “But employers deserve and pay for A-plus employees. There is a time and place for everything. As a member of a team, guys owe it to their teammates to put their best foot forward.”
Asked if legal marijuana would alter the NBA as we know it, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said, “Just like people got accustomed to alcohol, I don’t think it’s so far out there that it would change anything.” He pointed out that the NBA didn’t officially start testing for marijuana until 1999. “So the NBA has already had a time where marijuana was a big part of the league and wasn’t being tested for,” he said. “I do understand that the league is trying to market and portray a certain image, and all of these players are commodities and entities.”