Tip of the iceberg? Probably not
Orlando's Rashard Lewis tested positive for an elevated testosterone level
Lewis is just the sixth NBA player in 10 years to test positive for PEDs
Go ahead and criticize Lewis for his stupidity, but be careful not to overreact
Has the stench of performance enhancing drugs penetrated the NBA? Somehow I doubt it.
On a scale of 1-10, Rashard Lewis' decision to mix a banned supplement in with his protein shakes registers as a -30. The supplement, which reportedly contained the compound DHEA, a widely used muscle builder that is on the NBA's banned substance list, will cost the Magic forward 10 games next season and, more importantly, $1.6 million in salary.
But do I think this is just the tip of the iceberg? Do I think Lewis' positive test will be the first of many to start spilling out of the league offices? Probably not.
Why? For starters, there isn't a rich history of steroid users in the NBA. There is no secret list of hundreds of players who have tested positive in a drawer somewhere like there is in baseball, and there are no high-profile cautionary tales like those of former NFL players Lyle Alzado and Tony Mandarich. A total of six players have tested positive for PED's since the NBA began testing in 1999. And the list is hardly a who's-who of professional talent: Matt Geiger, Don McLean, Soumalia Samake, Lindsey Hunter, Darius Miles and now Lewis. Not exactly Bonds, Sosa and McGwire. No one believes Shaquille O'Neal was popping pills during the Lakers' three title seasons and there have been no rumors of David Robinson and Tim Duncan pumping each other full of HGH in bathroom stalls during the Spurs title seasons of 1999 and 2003.
Second, there is the drug, DHEA, that was in Lewis's system. Dr. Gary Wadler, Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee, told the Orlando Sentinel that DHEA is "very widely used in supplemental and complementary kind of medicines and it's in food stores." Wadler added that DHEA is also "not very effective" as a performance enhancer.
Third, as an NBA reporter for the last six years and as a locker room attendant with the Boston Celtics the eight years prior to that, I have never heard so much as a whisper of players juicing. Working both the home and away locker rooms in Boston, I saw a lot of things. I saw which players liked to drink (a lot), which ones liked to smoke (even more) and which ones liked both. I witnessed some unbelievably stupid decisions by players that, to a degree, compromised the integrity of the game. In many ways, I saw the underbelly of professional sports. But I never saw or heard anything related to performance enhancing drugs.
All of which leads back to the same conclusion, one that has been expressed to me by several NBA sources with knowledge of the situation. Lewis unknowingly bought a supplement with the banned drug. He used it. He got busted.
Should Lewis be criticized? Absolutely. Every NBA team employs trainers and strength coaches who either have a working knowledge of what supplements are legal or the ability to access that information quickly. One phone call probably could have saved Lewis from all this trouble.
And even if the team wasn't involved, so what? Today's players have more handlers than Michael Jackson in his heyday, Lewis couldn't have asked one of them to check up on what kind of supplements he was taking?
And what about the Magic? The fight for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference is going to be a dogfight next season, with Boston, Cleveland and Washington all loading up for a run at the top seed. Losing Lewis, the Magic's starting power forward and arguably their best perimeter weapon, for 10 games could prove costly as the battle for the Nos. 1-4 could come down to one or two wins.
So criticize Lewis for the stupidity of his actions and the cost it could have on the Magic next season. But be careful not to overreact. The NBA has a solid drug testing policy -- they randomly test every player four times during the season for everything from marijuana to steroids -- and no track record to warrant overwhelming skepticism.
Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake.
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