The NBA for the most part has managed to avoid the major performance-enhancing drug scandals that have plagued the NFL and Major League Baseball over the last decade. Commissioner David Stern is hoping to keep it that way.
Stern said on Wednesday that he thinks the NBA is on track to begin testing its players for human growth hormone, perhaps as early as next season. While the issue of PEDs, and HGH in particular, has not been perceived as a big problem in basketball, Stern said the league and players' union is trying to remain proactive to send a message that they have no place in their game.
"It's not a commitment, not a promise," Stern said yesterday before the Minnesota Timberwolves hosted the San Antonio Spurs. "It's an expectation. It might slide a little bit, but I think we're well on our way."
The Associated Press left a message with the players' union seeking comment.
Performance-enhancing drugs have been grabbing headlines repeatedly over the last few weeks, including Lance Armstrong's admission that he took them while winning seven Tour de France titles, allegations that Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis used deer antler spray to aid his comeback from a torn triceps muscle this season and former NL MVP Ryan Braun being linked to a Florida clinic being investigated by MLB. Both Lewis and Braun have denied using banned substances.
The instances of steroid scandals in the NBA have been few and far between, with one of the most notable being former All-Star Rashard Lewis' 10-game suspension in 2009. Stern credited the players' willingness to accept testing and continue modifying the list of banned substances for basketball's relatively clean record.
"Our players have, as a group, said we want to be demonstrably free of drugs as much as any group of athletes in the world," Stern said, "and I think they've kept that pledge."
Both baseball and football have been working to incorporate a reliable test for HGH into their testing procedures. The NBA is watching those proceedings, and Stern believes they will follow suit.
"If they get through what I think they're going to get through and have full-fledged testing, based upon our overall dialogue with the union, we'll be in a good place to have that as well for next season," he said.
Stern spoke on a variety of topics during his 25-minute session with reporters. He planned to meet with Minneapolis officials on Thursday to discuss the progress on renovations of the Target Center. As part of a bill that helped fund a new Vikings stadium that was passed last session, more than $150 million was set aside to completely revamp the outdated basketball arena. The progress has been slow in part because AEG, which operates and manages the building, has been slow to get into specific discussions on the plan.
Stern said he has been in contact with AEG officials and was confident things are headed in the right direction.
He also said he initially approached Wolves owner Glen Taylor about developing a succession plan. Taylor has been entertaining offers while making it clear that he wants to stay on as owner for the near future.
"I think Glen is not what you would call an anxious seller," Stern said. "Sometimes I think he might have seller's remorse even though he hasn't sold it because he loves the team and he loves what it does for the community. I do believe he is in the midst of at least a thought process that is going to find him at some point in the future, not immediately."
Stern also begrudgingly acknowledged that the league is approaching the day when sponsors will have their names on jerseys. He lamented the situation with international soccer clubs, who feature the logos of sponsors and sometimes don't even have the team's name anywhere in sight.
"They've completely, in my view, mucked up," Stern said. "We're talking about a two and a half inch patch. I recognise that once you start, you're on the trail. But, you know, players get half of it."
He said he has sat on the sideline of such discussions because he has been proud the NBA has not allowed sponsors - or even the logo of the uniform manufacturer - to grace the jerseys.
"There is a revenue opportunity, and as so often is the case, taking advantage of that becomes a separate discussion," Stern said. "Yes, I think it will happen. It's not going to happen this season; it's not going to happen next season."
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