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PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« on: July 13, 2017, 11:05:23 AM »

Offline Ed Hollison

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I wanted to make a standing thread for people to chime in with stories/anecdotes/opinions on PED usage in basketball and other sports.

I've become interested in this topic of late because there are some head-scratching things happening in sports that I suspect indicate that PED usage is on the rise. In basketball alone, to name just a few peculiarities:

Athletic feats: A player (Russell Westbrook) just averaged a triple double for a season for the first time in 55 years. He had a triple double in just over half of the regular season games he played in.

Endurance/health: Lebron James, who is 32 and has already played 50,000 NBA minutes, led the league in minutes per game during the regular season, and looked fresh as lettuce and frequently the most athletic player on the floor during the playoffs.

Jumps in individual careers: A handful of players took giant leaps in productivity this past year. A good example is Isaiah Thomas, who averaged nearly 30 ppg (his previous high was 22). To illustrate IT's remarkable jump: he took far and away the most threes in his career and yet also saw a jump in his FG%.

League-wide explosion in offense: The NBA just finished with its highest ever offensive rating. This is not a long-term trend; offensive efficiency has always fluctuated over time, but since the 2014-15 season has exploded. This coincides with some amazing individual performances, like for instance Steph Curry's 2015-16 season in which he posted a 0.630 eFG%.

Of course it's not just basketball. Here are handful of other peculiarities of recent years:

- Peyton Manning easily set the single-season touchdown passing record in 2013, shortly after having two vertebrae in his neck fused together and many people assuming he was finished.
- Venus and Serena Williams are dominating women's tennis into their late 30s, a sport where the prime age used to be considered around 15-25.
- Olympic swimmer Dara Torres set a US record in the 50m freestyle in 2007 at age 40. She swam faster at 40 than she did in her early 20s.
- Baseball saw a steady decline in home run rate after the Mcgwire/Sosa scandal and the start of steroid testing in 2003, but in the past two years has seen an explosion in home runs, with a rate now higher than the pre-testing era.

There are tons more of these.

Two points to finish:

1) There are plenty of other explanations for these anomalies. Maybe the baseballs are now juiced. Maybe NBA offenses have just gotten smarter. Maybe nutrition and training are better now. All of these are possible, but I think the simplest and most likely explanation linking all of these things is this: there's huge amounts of money at stake, both for the athletes as well as the leagues/advertisers/teams/networks. And that means there is every incentive for the leagues to look like there's legit testing, and no incentive to actually bust the superstars.

2) I realize that some people don't care. But a lot of us do. First, there's a chance that many of these beloved figures will die at young ages. That alone is enough to call for some serious thought on this, especially if younger athletes at all levels risk endangering their health to keep up.

But never mind all that, the reason you should care is this: Jaylen Brown.

Jaylen Brown is working his tail off, and at age 20 he's already a physical freak. Now, let's say (for the sake of argument) that Jaylen Brown could eventually become an NBA legend if he combines his natural ability, hard work, and will to win by also taking the same drugs that other to NBA players are taking. But he doesn't. He has other interests, and he's smart enough to recognize that potentially shortening his life isn't worth it. So he keeps clean while the majority of other NBA stars use, and he has a fine career, makes a couple all-star games. The Celtics never quite become that dominant team during his tenure, unable to make it over the hump because they lack that "transcendent" superstar.

This scenario should bother you, no matter which team you root for, because it implies that major outcomes -- who wins, who loses, and who's ultimately considered the greatest of all-time in their respective sports -- are being determined in part by who's willing to push the envelope with chemicals, and their own health. For me, at least, that thought ruins a big part of being a fan.

Happy to hear from others, including those who think I'm nuts and/or blowing this out of proportion.
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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2017, 11:21:17 AM »

Offline Roy H.

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.

It was fun when we could just point at cheats like Barry Bonds and Arod. Now, so many names have come out  that literally anybody could be under suspicion. I find it laughable that well under 1% of NBA players have failed PED tests. We had guys juicing on our mid-level varsity football team in Maine.  I would speculate that every college and professional program in the United States has dirty players in it.


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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2017, 11:23:11 AM »

Offline kozlodoev

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.
Where's that coming from? It's news to me.
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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2017, 11:35:58 AM »

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You have no evidence backing up your point. The burden of evidence falls on you.

It's far more likely that factors like the below list are to cause for the state of the NBA:

1. The decline in big men and the move to more flexible roles
2. Rules preventing hand checking
3. Better diet, conditioning, personal trainers, advances in medical science, analysis, etc.

There will always be PEDs but either (1) they're not being discovered by testing or (2) they're not as prevalent as you think. You can't equate baseball to basketball. In baseball, you had PED pitchers throwing the ball harder to PED batters who were bigger and stronger; add in a reduced strike zone, balls that were consistently tested at the top of the acceptable range and a league where talent was stretched thin by expansion and you have the perfect storm that created the records with management and executives encouraging it because it put butts in the seats after canceling the World Series in a fit of madness. That wouldn't necessarily hold true in basketball. For every PED-enabled offensive star there's a PED-fueled guy guarding him. It wouldn't equate to an explosion of offense.

However, what would result in an explosion of offense are rule and reffing changes. No hand checking. Limited contact permissible. The emphasis of the 3 point shot. Fewer big men in the sport dominating the middle. Add in better analysis tools (Sabermetrics) and it's gotten more efficient as well. It all adds up to a more open, offensive game.

Let's take IT. There would be no way he'd even be in the league from the 80s through the early 2000s. He'd be destroyed. They'd hand check him to death and his reckless drives into the middle would result in him being in a body cast. A guy like Bill Laimbeer would have put IT into the 4th row of the stands. Stephen Curry may not be much more to this league than his father Del Curry - a 3 point shooting specialist limited to coming off the bench. But now, those guys are free to operate almost unhindered. This lack of physicality stretches throughout the league and even helps guys like Lebron. They simply don't have to endure the same punishment every single game, 82+ games per year.

Let's wrap this up with another offensive explosion in a different sport. The NFL in the 70s was a defensive, running league. That's the way the game was played. Then they banned the head slap. They allowed the offensive linemen to extend their hands. They eliminated the bump and run. They greatly protected the QBs (where you can hit them and how hard). And now you have an NFL track meet where even average QBs routinely throw for more than 4,000 yards. That was done 21 times in the NFL in its entire history until 1993. It was done 21 times in just 2013 and 2014 alone. That's not due to PEDs.

Now take the NBA. No hand checking. No grabbing. Flagrant fouls. Defensive 3 seconds. The list goes on and on and these all favor the offense. So your hand wringing is really misplaced here. You don't need to look for a conspiracy. You just need to open the rule book.
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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2017, 11:38:55 AM »

Offline rondohondo

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Lebrons block head, and tumors on his jaw may make one wonder....

Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2017, 11:47:58 AM »

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3. Better diet, conditioning, personal trainers, advances in medical science, analysis, etc.


I think a lot of what is going on in sports is due to this. 

I do think there is some PED usage going on (namely, in the NFL) but I'm not sure its quite as prevalent as people might think.


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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2017, 11:52:01 AM »

Offline Ed Hollison

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You have no evidence backing up your point. The burden of evidence falls on you.

It's far more likely that factors like the below list are to cause for the state of the NBA:

1. The decline in big men and the move to more flexible roles
2. Rules preventing hand checking
3. Better diet, conditioning, personal trainers, advances in medical science, analysis, etc.

There will always be PEDs but either (1) they're not being discovered by testing or (2) they're not as prevalent as you think. You can't equate baseball to basketball. In baseball, you had PED pitchers throwing the ball harder to PED batters who were bigger and stronger; add in a reduced strike zone, balls that were consistently tested at the top of the acceptable range and a league where talent was stretched thin by expansion and you have the perfect storm that created the records with management and executives encouraging it because it put butts in the seats after canceling the World Series in a fit of madness. That wouldn't necessarily hold true in basketball. For every PED-enabled offensive star there's a PED-fueled guy guarding him. It wouldn't equate to an explosion of offense.

However, what would result in an explosion of offense are rule and reffing changes. No hand checking. Limited contact permissible. The emphasis of the 3 point shot. Fewer big men in the sport dominating the middle. Add in better analysis tools (Sabermetrics) and it's gotten more efficient as well. It all adds up to a more open, offensive game.

Let's take IT. There would be no way he'd even be in the league from the 80s through the early 2000s. He'd be destroyed. They'd hand check him to death and his reckless drives into the middle would result in him being in a body cast. A guy like Bill Laimbeer would have put IT into the 4th row of the stands. Stephen Curry may not be much more to this league than his father Del Curry - a 3 point shooting specialist limited to coming off the bench. But now, those guys are free to operate almost unhindered. This lack of physicality stretches throughout the league and even helps guys like Lebron. They simply don't have to endure the same punishment every single game, 82+ games per year.

Let's wrap this up with another offensive explosion in a different sport. The NFL in the 70s was a defensive, running league. That's the way the game was played. Then they banned the head slap. They allowed the offensive linemen to extend their hands. They eliminated the bump and run. They greatly protected the QBs (where you can hit them and how hard). And now you have an NFL track meet where even average QBs routinely throw for more than 4,000 yards. That was done 21 times in the NFL in its entire history until 1993. It was done 21 times in just 2013 and 2014 alone. That's not due to PEDs.

Now take the NBA. No hand checking. No grabbing. Flagrant fouls. Defensive 3 seconds. The list goes on and on and these all favor the offense. So your hand wringing is really misplaced here. You don't need to look for a conspiracy. You just need to open the rule book.

Thanks, this was an excellent reply and I agree with some of what you said. However, I don't think one has to wait for a smoking gun before discussing the issue. If PED usage in the NBA is rampant, for instance, where is that smoking gun going to come from if the NBA is not rigorously testing its players?

I said this in the original post:

Quote
There are plenty of other explanations for these anomalies. Maybe the baseballs are now juiced. Maybe NBA offenses have just gotten smarter. Maybe nutrition and training are better now. All of these are possible, but I think the simplest and most likely explanation linking all of these things is this: there's huge amounts of money at stake, both for the athletes as well as the leagues/advertisers/teams/networks. And that means there is every incentive for the leagues to look like there's legit testing, and no incentive to actually bust the superstars.

So yes, you've got a point. I just don't think it's an option to just throw one's hands up and say "There's no way to know" or "Everyone's doing it anyway", or to assume that literally all of the other explanations are legitimate but the PED explanation is not.
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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2017, 11:52:12 AM »

Offline Roy H.

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.
Where's that coming from? It's news to me.

Why would he be above suspicion? He's 40 next month and is basically playing at an unprecedented level. How many players in the history of pro sports are better at 39 than they are at 29?

Look at the narrative. QB drafted in the 6th round becomes a starter as a situational QB. He tears up his knee, and comes back with seven seasons with a QBR over 96.0 (with only one such season prior to the injury).  He seemingly doesn't age. He's the head of a team known for pushing the envelope.

That's not suspicious? It's impossible in your mind that he used?


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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2017, 12:12:25 PM »

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Dwight never did roids!










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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2017, 12:27:19 PM »

Offline Boris Badenov

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.
Where's that coming from? It's news to me.

Why would he be above suspicion? He's 40 next month and is basically playing at an unprecedented level. How many players in the history of pro sports are better at 39 than they are at 29?

Look at the narrative. QB drafted in the 6th round becomes a starter as a situational QB. He tears up his knee, and comes back with seven seasons with a QBR over 96.0 (with only one such season prior to the injury).  He seemingly doesn't age. He's the head of a team known for pushing the envelope.

That's not suspicious? It's impossible in your mind that he used?

Have you seen him run?

Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2017, 12:31:39 PM »

Offline JBcat

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.
Where's that coming from? It's news to me.

Why would he be above suspicion? He's 40 next month and is basically playing at an unprecedented level. How many players in the history of pro sports are better at 39 than they are at 29?

Look at the narrative. QB drafted in the 6th round becomes a starter as a situational QB. He tears up his knee, and comes back with seven seasons with a QBR over 96.0 (with only one such season prior to the injury).  He seemingly doesn't age. He's the head of a team known for pushing the envelope.

That's not suspicious? It's impossible in your mind that he used?

This is a first I've heard of anyone even think Brady could have possibly done roids. First the way Brady plays the QB position he does not rely on elite arm strength or athleticism.  Second there are enough QBs through history that have played well to age 40 and beyond with Favre and Moon as examples. 

Brady has an insane diet (maybe thanks to Giselle), and he has said himself he has learned over the years how to take much better care of his body than when he was 25.  I think some of us can relate with improved workout routines/diet than when we were young. Of course he might not be as fast or quick as he once was, but it doesn't matter nearly as much as say he was playing the PG position in the NBA.

Plus have you ever seen Brady with his shirt off?  No way he has done roids. Lol

Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2017, 12:49:29 PM »

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.
Where's that coming from? It's news to me.

Why would he be above suspicion? He's 40 next month and is basically playing at an unprecedented level. How many players in the history of pro sports are better at 39 than they are at 29?

Look at the narrative. QB drafted in the 6th round becomes a starter as a situational QB. He tears up his knee, and comes back with seven seasons with a QBR over 96.0 (with only one such season prior to the injury).  He seemingly doesn't age. He's the head of a team known for pushing the envelope.

That's not suspicious? It's impossible in your mind that he used?

This is a first I've heard of anyone even think Brady could have possibly done roids. First the way Brady plays the QB position he does not rely on elite arm strength or athleticism.  Second there are enough QBs through history that have played well to age 40 and beyond with Favre and Moon as examples. 

Brady has an insane diet (maybe thanks to Giselle), and he has said himself he has learned over the years how to take much better care of his body than when he was 25.  I think some of us can relate with improved workout routines/diet than when we were young. Of course he might not be as fast or quick as he once was, but it doesn't matter nearly as much as say he was playing the PG position in the NBA.

Plus have you ever seen Brady with his shirt off?  No way he has done roids. Lol
Exactly. You just have to watch that recent video of him Sumo wrestling to know he is not on PED's. I saw that video and was shocked at the lack of a look, body-wise, of a  professional athlete.

Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #12 on: July 13, 2017, 01:19:13 PM »

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So yes, you've got a point. I just don't think it's an option to just throw one's hands up and say "There's no way to know" or "Everyone's doing it anyway", or to assume that literally all of the other explanations are legitimate but the PED explanation is not.

There's a major flaw in your logic comparing my explanations versus the PED one. This is a simple matter of cause/effect. The causes that I list are not disputable. There have been rule changes that greatly influenced the game. There are better medical options and dietary knowledge now. These things actually happened and they knowingly apply to every player and every team. We know these causes exist. However, there's no proof that PEDs in the NBA have happened in any kind of widespread manner. We have no idea that this cause exists as it applies to the NBA. You haven't proven the cause exists before jumping directly to the effects.

It's not much different than coming across a single car accident on the side of a wet road near  a zoo. Yes, it's possible that a gorilla jumped out of the woods causing the car to veer off the road. But there's no proof of the gorilla. On the other hand, maybe the car just skidded off the slick road. After all there is plenty of evidence that it rained. This is one of those "the simplest explanation is probably the correct one". And that simple explanation starts with a proven, known cause (or causes).

I also greatly abhor casting unfounded aspersions about players. When you basically say "all of these guys might be on PEDs and that explains their performance", I don't find that any different than saying "all of these schoolteachers are pedophiles because that explains them wanting to be around children".
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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2017, 01:21:42 PM »

Offline kozlodoev

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I have stopped caring. I think that a huge percentage of professional athletes use. Look at the two biggest heroes in Boston sports this century. Tom Brady? Possible user. David Ortiz? Probable user.
Where's that coming from? It's news to me.

Why would he be above suspicion? He's 40 next month and is basically playing at an unprecedented level. How many players in the history of pro sports are better at 39 than they are at 29?

Look at the narrative. QB drafted in the 6th round becomes a starter as a situational QB. He tears up his knee, and comes back with seven seasons with a QBR over 96.0 (with only one such season prior to the injury).  He seemingly doesn't age. He's the head of a team known for pushing the envelope.

That's not suspicious? It's impossible in your mind that he used?
Pretty much anything is possible (in my mind and otherwise). It's just that some things are really, really unlikely...

... yes, I do statistical modeling for a living :P
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Re: PED usage in the NBA and other pro sports
« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2017, 01:47:07 PM »

Offline seancally

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I've suspected for awhile that the NBA is no more immune to PEDs than any other professional sport where money, injuries and livelihood are all involved. Basketball is my favorite sport, I love the NBA, I love the Celtics - but unfortunately, given today's sports landscape, there is no presumption of innocence owed toward athletes. There is burden of proof on professional leagues to provide adequate testing and indicate their athletes are clean.

Forget all the offensive numbers, the conspiracy images of Lebron (though they are strikingly similar to what happened to Barry Bonds), and the other anecdotes. To me, here's all you need to know:

1. These athletes get paid millions of dollars. If they're not at the top of their game, they don't get paid. Moreover, many of these athletes are borderline-homicidally competitive. Many will do whatever it takes to win and have been conditioned their entire lives to believe that - unlike the rest of us who live normal lives.

2. The NBA's testing policy is laughably incomplete. Players are tested randomly 4 times throughout the year including the playoffs. If your fourth test comes in March, randomly, then you're done. Players are also tested twice in the offseason. Now testing includes HGH, I believe, but (CRUCIALLY) not blood doping or EPO. Why? The Players' Union wouldn't agree to that. Same goes for biological passports. The program is also vulnerable to microdosing, which is tough to detect even in Olympic athletes who must submit to more rigorous standards. As for players who compete in the Olympics? Great - once every 4 years, they would have to cease their doping for a tournament that everyone values less than the NBA playoffs anyway.

3. Finally, remember Biogenesis? The whistleblower there implicated NBA players, who have remained anonymous, as far as I can tell.

I'll leave you with an anecdote of my own. I was a huge Lance Armstrong fan - was in middle school / high school when he was at his prime. I totally lionized the guy, and incidentally, so did my dad. When the cheating allegations emerged, I thought, no way - he's clean - he proved you can be at the top without doping. Turns out that was completely wrong in every way. He cheated and lied about it directly for years. Now, in his case, the stakes were higher - not as much money in cycling for the 5th or 6th best guy as there is in basketball. But just bear in mind - these are humans.

In a league with hundreds of players and hundreds more hoping to break in, there's no doubt in my mind that someone's not doing it honestly.

Further reading:

http://www.espn.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/9508288/biogenesis-whistleblower-broke-open-scandal-says-ncaa-mma-nba-other-athletes-used-clinic-mlb-investigation

http://www.espn.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/51305/gaps-in-nba-drug-testing
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