Today is the day Lance Armstrong is supposed to “admit” to using some sort of performance enhancing drug(s) in a one-on-one interview with Oprah. I have to say that I don’t really care that much about it at this point. The story is years and years old and, at this point, people have been assuming things since the idea was first put into our heads. Today I’m more interested in trying to figure out how to start some sort of service that provides a hypothetical online girlfriend that comes fully equipped with tweets, Facebook posts, and, in case you get tired of her, the ability to kill her off tragically so that you can have your own personal sob story. Could be cool. I digress.
I guess I still care about the steroid thing a little. I just never really cared for cycling or the Tour De France. I’m used to saying things like: “Lance won again? Sweet. Go U.S.A. Is Taco Bell still open? Of course it is. Who am I kidding?”
To be honest, it seems like most of the sports that have some sort of steroid controversy are the ones I didn’t follow before there was one. I didn’t really care for women’s sprinting until Marion Jones became awesome at it, and then lied, and then was stripped of everything, making her technically never good at it at all. Cycling? We know the Lance story.
If there’s one exception, it would be baseball. Even so, baseball was starting to fade before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa revived it with 500-foot blasts and nine-foot high line drives that were finding their way over the fence. What ends up happening with all these cases is that we see someone elevate their level to never-before-seen heights, crushing the competition behind them, all while blasting records that have stood for years. Therefore, today, whenever someone does something so athletically awesome and unprecedented, the questions naturally arise.
So why is the NBA generally immune to these types of rampant rumors? The other day, one of my buddies asked me if NBA players use PEDs. Without thinking, I told him no. The conversation was over, but I got to thinking. Why do I rarely ever get asked that question? Why have I never even thought for a second that some guy was juicing to produce his 45 in vertical leap? Why do I assume that everyone is playing fair?
The short answer is: I have no idea. The only time basketball players use the word “steroids” is when making fun of some dude on their team who is just big for no reason. My current teammate, Ira Clark, is pretty jacked, so it’s funny to say things like “lay off the juice, homie!” But I’ve never meant it.
My reason is that I have literally never seen PEDs, seen another guy doing them, or heard of anyone doing anything like that in my entire life. Granted, I’m not in the NBA, but I’m still a part of the hoop fraternity, and it’s never come up. I’ve even recently asked numerous other players if they suspect anyone of having used PEDs, and they all say no. I may get a “well that MF-er Dwight is pretty damn big,” but even that is half-hearted. I’d say that at least guarantees that it’s not a steroid culture like people have claimed baseball to be during the home run record chase.
One of the ballers I asked took it a step further. He said LeBron haters don’t even question him. He’s a LeBron hater himself (for no damn reason). He had a point, though. It’s kind of weird that people watch Floyd Landis, a skinny cyclist, cruise to victory and assume he’s got to be on something. Those same people will watch LeBron dribble coast to coast, cross someone over, jump over another human, and land gracefully (while somehow simultaneously looking directly into the lens of some camera as if he choreographed his entire “Sportsman of the Year” photo shoot before the game even started) and have nothing to say about PEDs. In fact, they will have a million other hateful things to say about him, but look at the comments on his clips or the stories about him. There’s less speculation than there would be if he were Landon Donovan.
I don’t think for a second LeBron is on anything. He’s just a freak. I watched “More Than a Game” and I was amazed. I’m a fan. But forget about him, I don’t think any NBA player is on anything illegal. So if basketball players are really all good and clean like I am, then the question is why? Why don’t us basketball players use PED’s? I’ve come up with four reasons:
1. It’s the rules
This seems obvious, but it needs to be addressed. Let’s not assume that everyone would cheat just because they can. There are plenty of athletes in every sport who just love the game and would never take that edge even if they knew they could get away with it.
Further, for the most part you can’t get away with it. Us basketball players are tested and the process sucks. I’ve had tests in both the D-League, which uses the same method as the NBA, and overseas. They all suck. You never quite get used to walking directly off the floor after a game and being ushered into a random bathroom. You (I) almost never have the urge to urinate, and you find yourself standing there stark naked for 25 minutes while some dude stares directly at your genitals while trying to make small talk about how he gave Tim Duncan a test last week. I personally wouldn’t know how to cheat in that situation. The possibility of a whizzonator is completely out the window.
In certain countries, they give you blood tests, too. And guess what? They’re not just checking for PEDs, they’re checking for HIV’s, player. Every August overseas is a free, nerve-racking, HIV test that you never get the results for. You just get to keep playing if you don’t have it. What’s funny is that in all my years of playing, I’ve only ever heard of guys getting sent home for HIV and THC, but never PED.
They say Lance had an intricate, sophisticated, and elaborate way of getting around these tests, eh? Well I imagine, then, that it had to involve hours and hours of his teammates trading blood and urine with him, as well as some help arranging fake genitals and other stuff that would have to be flawless to pass one of these. Sorry, but I just don’t see Kobe and Metta volunteering to help strap a fake anything onto Dwight Howard to make sure he isn’t caught doping. That would be awkward. Maybe cyclists are just cool like that?
But that’s just the thing…
2. There’s a social aspect
I really don’t think basketball players would have each others' back in the steroid game the way a U.S. Postal service team would. Players change teams way too often. I guess baseball players found a way to work it out back in the day, but it just feels like it would be much more difficult in the hoop game. Imagine all the “what’s in the backpack, KD?” questions a few years ago. What would people say when Westbrook is looking at the backpack shaking his head, knowing he just got a bit of Durant urine on his hands earlier trying to help that dude avoid a violation?
Also, think about the things basketball players would have to give up in order to juice. Steroids can cause liver damage, meaning that alcohol would be a bad idea. You mean to tell me that we’re ready to give up bottle popping? We’re some of the biggest bottle poppers on Earth! We’re not just going to give that up willy-nilly.
You can have impotence issues for years after taking steroids. We might as well not even hit the club anymore if that’s the case. Entire clubs in LA and NYC would shut down and the Atlanta economy would crumble were it not for so many rappers.
The trash talking would go to another level.
Picture this: Melo comes down the lane hard, right at the basket. He is checked hard by Kevin Garnett and they both get into each other’s faces. Instead of KG’s usual trash talk, he goes in on Melo’s newly grown man breasts, his impotence issues, and his Rip Hamilton-like hairline. Melo, in a rage, looks for something to hit KG with and picks up a towel boy. Jason Terry, all 6-2 245-pound of him runs in and knocks everyone to the floor.
But even if that was a risk some would be willing to take, basketball players consider that…
3. PEDs wouldn’t give them a measureable advantage
It should be mentioned that in all the above sports, individual numbers are recognized as signs of greatness and easier to achieve with the use of PEDs. If you run an 11 second 100-meter dash, then the equation is simple. Take PEDs, train hard, then Ben Johnson the hell out of everyone.
In baseball, if you hit 20 home runs one year, take some PEDs and go Palmeiro on ‘em the next!
Want to shatter a world record in the pool? There are two steps: PED first, deny second.
In basketball, the most athletic guys are sometimes the guys you never want to see on the floor when the game counts. The biggest guys are the most awkward, and generally end up in foul trouble. Sure, the appeal to be more athletic exists for all basketball players. But from my experience, some guys don’t even want to lift that hard or change their bodies much, because their games are so fine-tuned. There are a wide range of body types and levels of athleticism in the league, and if a guy is lacking something, he will be more likely to say “that’s not my game,” then he will be to take a PED. Just look at KD. Skinny. Dynamic. Awesome. Proud. Never going to try to body anyone, no matter how many times Skip Bayless says that’s the only thing lacking from his game.
I know that there are many types of PEDs that can aid in anything ranging from injury rehab, to overall athleticism. So in theory, players could take something just to recover from a microfracture surgery. It just seems to me that all the basketball players I know don’t think that risk is worth it.
4. The pressure on a basketball player is not as great
I know that sounds like basketball players have less overall pressure, but that’s not exactly what I mean. What I mean is that it takes a different kind of pressure to drive someone to overcome all that I mentioned before and still use.
For the track and field athlete, the swimmer, the cyclist, etcetera, there may be a handful of people who make any real money from the sport. For argument’s sake, let’s say that 10 male sprinters in the world make enough money to live comfortably as athletes. The pressure to be one of those 10 becomes extremely high. I don’t know what cycling earnings looked like before Lance, but I can assume there were a small number of guys making real cash doing it. So what happens? A couple guys use, and they go to the top, so now everyone has to do it, or they face obscurity in an already obscure sport.
Baseball is a little different, but not really. There are two factors that add the pressure in baseball. First, the best athletes make a substantial amount more than everyone else. Second, if a player falls out of the majors, his options for earning good money elsewhere are limited. So the appeal of a possible $200 million contract coupled with the potential to be out of baseball in a year make for an interesting dynamic.
But the pressure just isn’t the same for basketball players. I’ve been playing in Korea for years now. Guys have 10-year careers all over the world and make great money. They are some of the biggest bottle poppers you’ll see if you have to have a night out in Milan.
In hoops, you can start at the bottom and work your way up the ranks and up the pay scale. You can leave the NBA and find work in China, maybe even for more than you were making before. The 10 guys with a chance to make real money running track pale in comparison to the 1,000 guys who have a chance to make real money playing basketball.
All of that said, who knows? These are just my theories. Maybe there are some guys out there taking PEDs that I’ve never heard of. I can say that I’m proud to say that I don’t know any of them and hopefully never will.