x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Why dunking and doping go together

This past week, Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic tested positive for an elevated testosterone level.

This past week, Rashard Lewis of the Orlando Magic tested positive for an elevated testosterone level. He will be suspended for 10 games. Lewis apologised and claimed he took a supplement containing the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), that is on the NBA's list of banned substances. There is a possibility Lewis and his handlers are spinning the story so that he does not look bad in the media. Based on what the NBA are saying, Lewis did something to increase the amount of testosterone in his body. The NBA are not saying it was DHEA.

If Lewis took steroids, or even growth hormone, I would find it hard to criticise him. Who decides that an athlete cannot take medication to counteract the wear and tear on their bodies? And at what point is it unfair and inhumane to prohibit people from taking advantage of the advances in modern medicine so that they can continue to ply their craft and pursue wealth? Doctors prescribe steroids for all kinds of patients, the logic being that while potentially harmful, the positive benefits of steroids to a patient's condition outweigh the drawbacks. Doctors also prescribe doses of the powerful anti-inflammatory cortisone.

During the 2009 play-offs, former Chicago Bulls player Ben Gordon put on a marvellous performance, fuelled by cortisone. The sports world celebrated his courage. Most media pundits have scratched their heads wondering why Lewis would take any sort of performance-enhancing drug, given that he already has a huge contract (six years, US$118million (Dh433m). The answer: athletes are human and their bodies break down, yet everyone wants them to show up every game night and perform.

I have seen what NBA players go through. I remember watching Denver Nuggets centre and Brazilian international Nene as he arrived home following a game, covered in ice packs from head to toe. Battling for both offensive and defensive position in the key has to be one of the most physical activities in sports. Even a spectacular athlete, better yet, a super-human athlete like Nene, felt sore after a game.

The day after playing basketball at my local YMCA, I wake up with aches and pains. To reduce pain and inflammation, I used to take ibuprofen tablets. After spending time around NBA players, I switched to naproxen sodium tablets even though the side effects are quite dangerous. My doctor says I should stop playing basketball because, at 33 years of age, I am getting too old. I have not seen any mention of professional leagues banning naproxen sodium, cortisone shots or any other anti-inflammatories, even though the evidence is clear that these medications are dangerous. One could easily argue that these painkillers are performance-enhancing, because an injured athlete could not possibly perform at the same level without them. Bulls' Gordon is a perfect example.

The only other way I see around the current issue of performance-enhancing drugs would be to reduce the number of games in the NBA. Of course, if commissioner David Stern tried to pull that on his franchise owners, he would be sacked. The reality is that players will continue to play an incredible number of games, damage their bodies significantly and be told that they cannot use existing medication to counteract the consequences.

The fact is, Lewis does not look like he abuses performance-enhancing drugs. I stood next to him at the NBA finals in Orlando and I can safely state that he is a bean pole. If he took anything, it was probably to recover from injury. And how much of a crime is that? @Email:gdole@thenational.ae