When Golden State Warriors coach, Steve Kerr, publicized an unsuccessful attempt to treat his chronic pain with medical marijuana, it stoked the often fiery debate about the place of cannabis medicine in professional sports. Now retired five-time NBA all star, Chauncey Billups, has chimed in to say marijuana use by pro ballers is nothing new.
Medical marijuana didn’t work for Steve Kerr’s back pain, but the disclosure by the Golden State Warriors coach that he used cannabis has certainly loosened lips around the NBA about weed.
Of course, marijuana use around the league is nothing new. Former player Charles Oakley’s assertion that half the league’s players were regular marijuana smokers came almost 20 years ago.
But now that half of the United States allows medical marijuana, the revelations are coming harder and stronger. Those professional basketball’s marijuana confessions continued this week, with former player Chauncey Billups’s dish that not only was weed use commonplace during his time in the league, he had teammates who played better on the stuff than off it.
Billups and his co-hosts on NBA Countdown discussed the cannabis question recently, and the idea that players should be given the option to use cannabis to deal with pain without fear of fine or suspension received a consensus.
Billups went so far as to say he had teammates who he preferred to play with when they were high. He said that cannabis seemed to curb their anxiety, allowing them to focus on game plans and perform in the face of overwhelming pressure.
“I honestly played with players, I’m not going to name names… I wanted them to smoke,” he said. “They played better like that.”
But the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement technically bans marijuana, with offenders risking suspension after a third offense.
Billups’s comments followed revelations from current New York Knicks president Phil Jackson that, as a player, he smoked marijuana to relieve back pain. Jackson feels that the NBA needs to get with the times and allow its players to smoke openly.
Back pain is also what led Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr (owner of the best regular-season win-loss record in league history) to try marijuana during his recovery from back surgery. Marijuana didn’t do the trick for Kerr, who said he tried it only a few times before moving on. But, he recognized, that’s not the point—the point is having an option for pain that’s not opiate-based.
Under commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA has taken a laissez-faire attitude with regard to marijuana. Silver says enforcing cannabis is “not a priority” — and critics say that’s partially the problem, that it should be a priority to undo a pointless and harmful policy that’s near-ignored, anyway.
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