Doping Agency Says NBA Anti-Drug Policy Has Holes

David Howman

The NBA’s ani-drug policy is not up to par, according to David Howman, the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which should know such things.

“They’ve got gaps in their program, between what they do and what we suggest would be better,” David Howman said.

WADA designs testing protocols that are employed by hundreds of leagues and national federations globally, including the Olympics and international cycling. Professional cyclists say aggressive testing in recent years led many cheaters to mend their ways, and analysis of key race data suggest they may have: Riders are measurably slower by key measures than in the years of heavy doping, which is seen as confirmation the sport is cleaner.

Cycling also has seen a string of confessions, including in testimony before the United States Anti-Doping Agency that has shattered the reputation of cycling legend Lance Armstrong.

“They know what we would suggest,” added Howman, who calls for the NBA to test for human growth hormone, among other things. “And I would just hope that they would be discussing all of those things rather than just putting them on the side table. Howman’s concern is that practices that have evidently been effective in other sports are not all being deployed in the NBA.

In the past, including in testimony before Congress in 2005, NBA officials have made the case that performance-enhancing drugs are unlikely to be effective in basketball.

“They do not feel they have such an issue as the other major leagues and therefore haven’t addressed it in quite the same way,” Howman said. “I just think you’ve got to be very careful when you start saying performance-enhancing drugs are not beneficial in any sport, because you’re going to be proven wrong. And you’ll be proven wrong when you’re not expecting it.”

At present, HGH is banned in the NBA, but the league does not test players’ blood for it. WADA strongly recommends the test, deployed by many sporting organizations, including the Olympics and, in limited ways, Major League Baseball. The NFL is interested in implementing the test but faces hurdles from the union. The NBA and its Players’ Association have formed a committee to explore HGH testing, but no progress has been reported.

As of yet, no major North American leagues have adopted WADA’s full code of recommendations. Howman said there has been progress in football and baseball, but noted basketball is a laggard.

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