USADA chief questions NBA testing

Updated: March 1, 2014, 8:34 PM ET
By Henry Abbott | ESPN.com

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency head Travis Tygart says it is not difficult for NBA players to beat the league's drug-testing program.

Tygart told ESPN.com that the NBA's testing program, which is built on six urine tests a year, is "not at all" tough to beat.

"Unfortunately, I think the athletes are being let down by the system," Tygart said in an interview with ESPN.com at the Sloan Conference on sports analytics Saturday at MIT. "Really, I've said it before. If there's no chance of getting caught, and you're overly competitive, you're going to do anything possible to win. That includes using these dangerous drugs because they will give you a performance-enhancing benefit.

"We're hopeful at some point the athletes are supported and given the opportunity to be held to the highest standards. They do it when they're subjected to the Olympic testing, a year out before the OIympic Games. They're under our jurisdiction subject to blood testing and out-of-competition, no-notice, no blackout periods for when they can't be tested. And they fully support it. We've never had a player say they didn't want to be part of the program because of the testing."

The NBA has been criticized in the past for holes in its testing, but the league's general counsel, Rick Buchanan, defended the current system.

"We think we have a program that is as good as any other in pro sports," Buchanan, who oversees the NBA's testing, told ESPN.com.

Tygart advocates the World Anti-Doping Agency code for the NBA, which would mean an end to the league-run testing program.

"That's the inherent conflict that we see," Tygart said, "when a sport attempts to both promote and police itself. That's why the code calls for independence."

Buchanan disagrees.

"We don't think there's any conflict where we can't have the best, state-of-the-art program," he said.

Buchanan added that the league is "working on" the issues Tygart says the NBA program lacks, including blood testing for human growth hormone and biological passport testing. "We need to get that done."

However, Buchanan suggests there have been delays related to the union's ongoing search for a head, and overall questions about growth hormone testing.

Tygart also seemed to reserve hope that an updated system could be achieved now that new leaders are in place within the league.

"Hopefully with new leadership at the commissioner's office now, hopefully the lines of communication will open up and they'll see the benefits of putting in a program that is going to adequately protect the integrity of the game," Tygart said. "Because no one wants to see a game that's altered by an unfair advantage by one team."

For his part, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who replaced David Stern last month, doesn't believe there is a high level of PED use in the league.

"I have no reason to believe the use of PEDs are widespread in the NBA," Silver said in response to a question from bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell at the conference. "Both because we test and because, No. 2, it's not part of the culture of the NBA.

"If there was the kind of drug use you were suggesting, anywhere near 25 percent, people would be talking about it. There would be somebody," Silver said. "There are great journalists out there like [Gladwell], somebody would be out there and would've found somebody who's willing to talk about it. We're fortunate in the NBA that there is a cultural view that those types of drugs are not helpful to core performance.

"Whether it's supported, I'm not sure, but there's a perception that it's helpful in other sports. I don't have that sense [in basketball]. Again, I've been in the NBA for 22 years. I talk to players all the time. I talk to retired players all the time. I don't hear about it.

"I don't want to be naïve. We don't have HGH testing in our league. It's something we agreed we'd do with the union, and we're waiting to figure out what the appropriate procedures are. Understandably -- and I'm sympathetic to the players here -- because it requires the taking of blood, we want to make sure it's done in the absolute right way. The NFL and their player association are going through the same discussion."

Tygart, however, dismisses the long-held NBA position that a lack of overt signs of PEDs means the lack of a problem.

"Don't be naive to the pressures," Tygart said before hearing Silver's comments. "Take your head out of the sand."

Henry Abbott | email

TrueHoop, NBA

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