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Thursday, January 17, 2013
HGH tests coming to basketball, too?

By Henry Abbott

In December, Rep. Elijah Cummings called it “incredibly ridiculous” that the NFL does not test for human growth hormone (HGH), lamenting years of stalling tactics from the players union. Cummings, from Maryland, is the ranking Democrat on a committee that has held many a hearing on doping in professional sports.

His feelings about the NFL apply to the NBA, too. A few days after the NFL hearings, his office emailed ESPN.com the following quote:
According to the expert witnesses who testified at our hearing, there is consensus among the scientific community that HGH testing is safe and reliable. Since the NBA agreed last year to start HGH testing -- and since professional basketball players already compete in the Olympics where they are subject to HGH testing -- there is no reason to delay HGH testing for the NBA itself. My hope is that all our professional sports leagues implement HGH testing right away to set an example for millions of young athletes across the country who look up to them.

In recent days, Major League Baseball followed Cummings’ advice and, in a move that was hailed by everyone from lawmakers to international doping experts, became the first of the major North American sports league to agree to test for human growth hormone.

So now the question for the NBA and its Players Association is: What are you waiting for?

The league already has a provision on the books that once a reliable HGH test is available, the testing should begin.

Neither the NBA nor the Players Association would comment for the record. But the consensus among those with knowledge of the talks is that now that baseball has led the way (and the Lance Armstrong story has drawn attention to doping generally), it is likely the NBA will follow suit.

But it will take some time -- almost certainly more than is left in this season -- to resolve remaining issues, for instance when and where NBA players would have their blood drawn.

The item that has long held up HGH testing in all North American leagues, however, is melting away; it’s suddenly almost impossible to find anybody persisting in making the case that there is no such thing as good HGH test.

The chief science officer at the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Larry Bowers, testified before Congress last month that HGH tests are so good that “the chances of an athlete who has not used synthetic growth hormone testing positive are comparable to the chance of that same athlete being struck by lightning during his or lifetime.” He added that those questioning the tests were “lawyers, not scientists.”

The negotiators of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) essentially punted on the issue in 2011. Instead of deciding to test or not, the parties formed a committee of three drug testing experts -- one chosen by the league, another by the union and a third by the first two appointees. The CBA identifies their mission as determining if a “scientifically valid” test exists for human growth hormone. The NBA's committee has been on the job for more than a year without identifiable results. The CBA calls for them to continue at it, issuing reports on the state of HGH testing every summer.

From the World Anti-Doping Agency (which has criticized the NBA on this issue) to lawmakers, many insist such a test has existed for years, and have been deployed at the Olympics and elsewhere.

Change will come to the NBA whenever that committee comes to the opinion there is a good test. “If, pursuant to the foregoing,” reads the CBA, “the HGH Panel determines that there exists a scientifically valid blood or urine test to reliably detect exogenous HGH in NBA players and provides written notice to the NBA and the Players Association of the same (which shall include a description of the laboratory testing protocols and specimen collection procedures to be implemented in connection with such testing), the NBA may commence HGH Blood Testing within sixty (60) days thereafter, after notice is provided to NBA players.”