Starting next season, the NBA will begin blood testing for HGH as part of its anti-drug program. This marks a major shift in what has been one of the most lax drug testing programs in professional sports.
People are going to get caught and suspended, player’s legacies are going to be tarnished and a lot of teams will be affected by failed tests. There will also be players who continue to use performance-enhancing drugs and are never caught, either through luck or finding a way to subvert the test.
Three drug tests a year are hardly bulletproof measures. Lance Armstrong evaded professional cycling’s tests for years to the point that it was practically an art form. I don’t think I could begrudge an NBA player for doing the same thing; the margins are so slim and the payouts so great that I wouldn’t blame anyone for doing what it took to get that edge.
Did you know steroids weren’t officially banned from Major League Baseball in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the home run record? And yet we still put an asterisk on their accomplishments for taking steps to edge out the competition.
The NBA has, at the most, 450 players on rosters at a given time. Only 450 people in the entire world are able to play in the NBA. That puts NBA players in an infinitesimally small percentile bracket, they are in the top .000000075 percent of people playing Basketball in the world. That person who’s in the top .000000076 percent? He’s not in the league–no room for him on a roster. He’s playing in Spain, Russia or neither because maybe he doesn’t translate well to the European game. If no one in the NBA is using HGH, couldn’t that player who is right on the edge of making an NBA roster use HGH to help him make a team and earn himself millions of dollars? Even if the 451st player doesn’t use drugs to get better, the 450th player has to be wondering about what the next guy up would be willing to do to take his job, and might be tempted to preemptively use HGH to keep off the guy biting at his heels.
I’ve heard people say that PEDs won’t help you make a jump shot or see the floor any better, but they said the same thing about hitting a curveball in baseball. If HGH makes you stronger and faster, it makes you a better basketball player; otherwise, players in the NBA wouldn’t lift weights or exercise outside of practicing skills and cardio.
I’m not advocating the use of performance enhancing drugs, or arguing against them being banned by the NBA. The health risks they impose are far too great for every aspiring athlete to be subjected to those risks just to play a sport, and it would be unfair to make such risks a prerequisite for playing professional sports. I’m saying that when player X gets suspended for HGH, don’t assume he was the only player doing it. He was just trying to stay in the game.