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The NBA’s rise in PED suspensions, explained

Three players have each been given 25 game suspensions this year.

John Collins of the Hawks flexes on the court.
The NBA is getting serious about PEDs.

Three weeks into the 2019-20 NBA season, three players have tested positive for banned substances, resulting in 25-game suspensions. In late August, Brooklyn Nets forward Wilson Chandler tested positive for Ipamorelin. In late October, Suns center Deandre Ayton tested positive for a diuretic. On Nov. 5, Hawks big man John Collins tested positive for Growth Hormone Releasing Peptide-2.

While professional athletes in the world of sports getting caught for PEDs is nothing new, this frequency is unprecedented in the NBA. In the history of the league, no more than two players have ever tested positive in the same season. And there’s still more than 70 games to go in this one.

What do these banned substances do?

How does the NBA’s drug policy work anyway?

Under the current collective bargaining agreement, players can be randomly tested up to four times during the season (twice for HGH) and twice during the offseason (once for HGH), per Larry Coon’s FAQ. The league can’t conduct more than 1,525 tests in a year or 600 during an offseason. Players can also be tested for “reasonable cause” up to four times in a six-week period.

When players are tested, their samples are split into a “Test A” and “Test B.” If “Test A” results in a positive testing, a player can request “Test B” be sent to another lab. If a player refuses to submit for testing or tries to cheat, they’re considered to have tested positive.

What’s going on this year?

The NBA’s had just 13 athletes test positive for banned substances ever, including the most recent three. For a league with over 450 players, that number is minuscule. Could it really be so few?

Current Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose and former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl have speculated otherwise. In 2011, in an ESPN The Magazine story, Rose was asked to rate PED use in the NBA on a scale of 1-10. “Seven,” he said. “It’s huge, and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person.” He later reneged, saying, “I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked. If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me.”

In 2017, Karl, in his book Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection, sounded off about doping in the NBA.

From NBC Sports:

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.

Are more players using PEDs now than ever? Or is the NBA testing more frequently than it once did?

The NBA is sending a warning

The NBA’s sent a statement with three players already testing positive for PEDs. Collins was in the midst of a breakout year, and Ayton was the top pick in last year’s draft. All players are subject to testing.