George Karl: NBA has steroid issue

AP Photo/Matt York
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How seriously are steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs treated in the NBA?

On one hand, the league introduced blood testing. On the other hand, the overwhelming narrative about the only recent suspension for steroids was that the player mistakenly took a banned substance while trying to reverse his balding.

The rhetoric and policies suggest due diligence. A lack of suspensions says either the league is relatively clean – or that a problem is being swept under the rug.

Former Kings/Nuggets/Bucks/Sonics/Warriors/Cavaliers coach George Karl says it’s the latter.

Karl in “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection:”

We’ve got a more thorough drug-testing program than the NFL or MLB, which we always brag about. But we’ve still got a drug issue, though a different one than thirty years ago. And this one bothers me more than the dumbasses who got in trouble with recreational drugs.

I’m talking about performance-enhancing drugs—like steroids, human growth hormone, and so on. It’s obvious some of our players are doping. How are some guys getting older—yet thinner and fitter? How are they recovering from injuries so fast? Why the hell are they going to Germany in the off-season? I doubt it’s for the sauerkraut.

More likely it’s for the newest, hard-to-detect blood boosters and PEDs they have in Europe. Unfortunately, drug testing always seems to be a couple steps behind drug hiding. Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test. I think we want the best athletes to succeed, not the biggest, richest cheaters employing the best scientists. But I don’t know what to do about it.

I don’t know whether Karl has specific insights into a problem. His lengthy coaching career certainly positioned him to have inside information. But he could also be supposing based on the circumstantial evidence presented here.

Either way, I suspect he’s right. We marvel at the athleticism and longevity of NBA players the same way we celebrated the uptick of home runs in the 1990s – with too much awe and not enough skepticism. So much of the lack of suspicion into NBA steroids use is based on the long-standing idea that the drugs wouldn’t help fluid athletes like basketball players. But the prevailing opinion used to be that only hitters, not pitchers, benefited from steroids. Then, a ton of pitchers tested positive. Steroids ran far deeper in baseball than many imagined, and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the same is true in basketball. To be clear, I have no specific knowledge of wider steroid use in the NBA. Just a hunch.

Does Karl have more? He at least appears to take a specific shot.

By mentioning Germany, is Karl implying Kobe Bryant, who was well known for his offseason trips to Germany? Karl never mentions Kobe, and before you think there’s specific reason to accuse Kobe, consider that Kobe played for Phil Jackson – Karl’s longtime coaching rival. It’s often too personal with Karl.

Sometimes, though, he’s right.

Disclosure: I received a promotional copy of “Furious George.”