The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) remains in its repertoire. The other day, its head Vitold Banka made a controversial statement. He wants US professional leagues like the NBA, NFL, NHL and others to sign their World Anti-Doping Code. It would seem that everything is logical. Since you are going to the national teams, please be kind enough to work on the same conditions as everyone else. But across the ocean in the vast world called the NBA, everything is arranged quite differently.
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Why does a basketball player need doping …
After the bubble, the NBA stopped conducting random testing for marijuana, and followed the same policy last season. Players are still tested for growth hormone and other steroids, as well as for “drugs of abuse” – methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, etc. But marijuana is not. And about this, the leaders of the NBA agreed with the players’ union.
But even before that, when testing for marijuana was still carried out, the punishment for its use was, well, very mild. Firstly, sanctions were applied to the player only if he failed as many as three of the relevant tests. Second, the penalty itself was a small fine and a five-match suspension. Although with each repeated violation the amount and duration of disqualification increased.
But according to the WADA code, which was valid until 2021, for the use of drugs, including marijuana, athletes were completely suspended for a period of two to four years. However, in the updated code, sanctions for the use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy have been significantly softened. Now, if an athlete is caught on one of the above substances in the out-of-competition period, he will be banned for only three months. And for the passage of the rehabilitation program, the suspension will be completely reduced to 30 days. But this is only if the perpetrator can prove that he did not use drugs to improve his athletic performance. Those who tried to influence their own performance will face a two-year suspension.
In addition, at the end of 2021, WADA even started talking about removing marijuana from the list of prohibited substances. All because of the situation that happened with the American runner Sha’Karrie Richardson. The track and field star missed the Tokyo Olympics after failing testing and receiving a 30-day suspension.
Thus, next year its use can be fully legalized for athletes competing in competitions under the auspices of WADA. But for the NBA and other American leagues to sign their doping code, this is not enough.
There are many other differences between the anti-doping policies of the NBA and WADA. First of all, in the world’s major basketball league, penalties for the use of prohibited substances are generally much more forgiving. Consider the case of Deandre Ayton. In 2019, a banned diuretic was detected in his sample, for which the player was suspended for 25 matches. Then a big scandal erupted around Ayton, and Phoenix fans literally hounded the center. But what is 25 NBA games? It’s not even a third of the regular season. It is not known what drug Deandre was taking, but WADA would have been banned for up to two years for a similar violation.
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But after WADA updated its code, the NBA is “losing” in terms of anti-drug program. Over the past few years, there have been several cases of violation in the league: OJ Mayo, Tyreke Evans and Jalen Harris were caught. In their samples, the same “drugs of abuse” were found. All three were suspended for one to two years with the right to reinstatement.
Mayo and Evans were suspended in 2016 and 2018 respectively, and if the WADA code had been in place in the NBA, they would have received more severe punishment. But Harris, suspended in the summer of 2021, could get away with a punishment of just one or three months. Of course, only if he took the substances that fell under the easing of sanctions – cocaine, heroin or ecstasy (what was actually there is unknown). Whatever it was, Jalen is about to serve his year-long suspension and be able to apply for reinstatement in the league.
Oh Jay Mayo
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Another sore point for the NBA and other American leagues is steroids. In the NBA, it is not really regulated to this day. So, they began to test basketball players for growth hormone only in 2015 – then the league introduced mandatory testing for it through blood. And before that, blood sampling as such was not used at all during doping checks. And in the urine, the same growth hormone is found in extremely low concentrations, making it impossible to detect. It turns out that it and any other steroids that can be identified solely through a blood test could be used with peace of mind.
But even now, basketball players are tested for growth hormone only three times a year: twice during the season, and once in the offseason. This despite the fact that this hormone is completely excreted from the body in just 48 hours. Yes, and a complete disqualification threatens only those who are caught using it three times. For a single violation, a player is suspended for 20 matches, for a second – for 45.
One of the most famous cases of the (unproven, of course) growth hormone is Duane Wyed. A few years after his debut in the league, he was “swollen” so that even his jaw noticeably increased in size. This is despite the fact that he got into the NBA at the age of 21, so these transformations cannot be attributed to banal growing up. Yes, and the connection between the abuse of growth hormone and an increase in the size of the jaw has been scientifically proven.
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Another basketball player who has been suspected of doping for many years is LeBron James. The public found in him more than one sign of steroid use: from a sharp increase in muscle mass to early hair loss and aggressive behavior on the court. Naturally, as with Wade, the King’s use of steroids has never been proven.
It is easy to find loopholes in the NBA doping code, so it cannot be ruled out that a good half of the league takes steroids in one form or another. But is it really that important? Let’s take LeBron. Who will remove from basketball a man who has been attracting millions of spectators to the stands and TV screens for almost 20 years? Who benefits? Nobody. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry with more and more money pouring into it every year. As long as this continues, sports principles will remain in the background. But there is nothing to complain about: the NBA remains spectacular, the NBA remains attractive to fans. And everything that can destroy this business, including the utopian ideas of WADA, will be rejected at the highest level.