Commish confident in seeking common ground

Updated: April 27, 2005, 11:14 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- The NBA and its players' union are discussing expanded testing for performance-enhancing drugs, and commissioner David Stern said Wednesday he is optimistic it will be part of the new labor agreement.

The league already tests for recreational drugs and more than a dozen types of steroids. But with steroid use by professional athletes and the impact they have on children under increasing scrutiny, Stern said he believes the NBA should do more.

"I think it's incumbent upon every sport to just have rules that demonstrate to their fans that, if you're in the NBA, you submit to a certain amount of testing," Stern said before Game 2 of the Washington Wizards-Chicago Bulls playoff series. "It's really a covenant with the fans, especially the young ones."

Stern said he didn't have details on what the new testing program would cover or how it would work. Currently, first-year players are tested once during training camp and up to three times during the season, while veterans are tested only at camp unless there is probable cause for additional testing.

Penalties for positive steroid tests include a five-game suspension for a first offense, 10 games for a second and 25 for subsequent offenses.

But Stern said he doesn't think the league and union will have much disagreement on the issue. The current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.

"Of all the things that I would anticipate contentious negotiations about, I just don't think this is going to be one that separates us," he said. "We realize what we mean to people and what obligations we have."

The issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sports has been a hot topic since the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative case unfolded, and now Congress is involved. Worried that steroid use among pro athletes encourages youths to try the drugs, the House Government Reform Committee is examining the testing policies of more than a half-dozen sports.

The committee began with baseball last month, hearing testimony from commissioner Bud Selig and superstars like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The NFL had its turn Wednesday, and the committee chairman, Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said afterward that the NBA would be next.

The NBA already turned over requested documents about its drug-testing policy to the committee, and Stern said the league "absolutely" would testify if asked. The NBA has some time constraints now, though, with the playoffs and collective bargaining.

"When the hearings started, I said, 'I don't quite understand what's going on here,'" Stern said. "As I watched them unfold, I thought it was an appropriate Congressional oversight topic. It's getting to be just too important. As a result, we and our players I'm sure are ready to step up and do it ourselves."

Davis also said he and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, are working with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on legislation that would put sports' banned substance lists and testing protocols under the auspices of the White House drug chief, but might leave penalties up to the leagues.

Stern said he wouldn't object to some kind of universal drug code. NBA players who play in the Olympics or world championships already are subject to the World Anti-Doping Agency's code.

"No, I wouldn't mind if the government got involved. But I think we can do it by ourselves," Stern said. "And we will. At our cost, and in a way that will make our fans proud of us. But if the government wanted to get involved at its expense, come on in."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press