Whilst the on-court start to the NBA season has been the most exciting in recent memory, off the court, the league finds itself facing difficulties and a potential image crisis.
On Tuesday, the Atlanta Hawks’ promising young forward, John Collins, was suspended for 25 games for violating the NBA’s Anti-Drug Program. Collins, in his third season, has seen his stock rise considerably as his partnership with Trae Young blossomed into one of the most promising tandems in the league. Now the future of that partnership and the surprisingly hopeful season which lay ahead for the Hawks is uncertain.
The 22-year-old tested positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2 (GHRP-2), a banned PED which (as the name suggests) stimulates the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) as well as (not as the name suggests) increasing appetite. That, in itself, is a story. But there is more going on here, as Collins became the third player to be suspended from play this season for violating the Anti-Drug Program testing positive for either PEDs or flushing agents.
In August, Wilson Chandler of the Brooklyn Nets tested positive for Ipamorelin
In October, DeAndre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns was found to have a diuretic in his system.
Three players. Three 25 game bans.
As part of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NBPA and league agreed to implement blood testing for HGH. In April 2015, it was announced that testing would be implemented for the 2015-16 season. Since that time, ten players have been suspended by the league, with five of those testing positive for steroids, performance-enhancing drugs or masking agents. Those five; Joakim Noah in March 2017, Jodie Meeks in April 2018 and now, in quick succession, Chandler, Ayton and Collins.
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Is this a warning of a wider issue?
Whilst the dates of the positive tests have not been disclosed, three announcements in short succession have the air of a crackdown. Proportionally, three from the pool of 450 players is just 0.0067%, which gives hope that this is just an unfortunate coincidence.
The league’s anti-drug program can subject players to four urine tests and two blood tests in season, alongside two urine tests and one blood test each offseason. Tests are scheduled and undertaken independently of the NBA and NBPA, with players having no prior warning they are to be tested. Crucially, beyond this, additional tests can be undertaken with “reasonable cause”, meaning there is always the potential for a player to be caught.
Ultimately, we need to hope that this is just the league sending a warning shot to players (that the risks and repercussions, both personally and professionally, of using PEDs significantly outweigh any potential rewards), rather than an indicator of a systemic issue amongst players. Perhaps the timing of the bans and announcements is strategic, something the league hopes will fade in the public memory as the season progresses and fans continue to be consumed by the on-court action.
Friday 8 November, 3:30 am (Saturday morning) – Miami Heat @ Los Angeles Lakers
The surprising Miami Heat (6-2) head to the Staples Center to take on a surging Lakers (6-1) team. The game presents, perhaps, one of the two toughest match-ups for the Heat. It’ll be interesting to see how Bam Adebayo’s energy and athleticism match’s up with current Western Conference Player of the Week, Anthony Davis – especially in the second game of a tough back-to-back, having beaten the Suns 124 – 108 last night.
Saturday 9 November, 10 pm – Boston Celtics @ San Antonio Spurs
Boston (6-1) ride into San Antonio atop the Eastern Conference and tied with the Lakers for the best record in the league. The Spurs (5-3) have a reputation as one of the toughest teams to beat on their home floor and should prove a real test for the re-energised Celtics. This is a game with an array of talent on display, with established stars (Kemba Walker, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge) and ascending talent (Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Bryn Forbes) in abundance.
Sunday 10 November, 8:30 pm – Denver Nuggets @ Minnesota Timberwolves
The Nuggets (5-2) visit the Timberwolves (4-3), in a match-up that sees two of the league’s best young bigs, in Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns, face off. Denver appears to be finding their feet, having thumped the white-hot Heat by 20 on Tuesday and the Timberwolves will be looking to stop a potential slide, having given up over 130 points in each of their last two games (at time of writing), including a shock loss to Memphis.