The Toy Department of Life (Christmas 2002)

Damon Stoudamire and Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trailblazers were busted for possession as they drove home from Seattle after a recent game. The Giants’ catcher Benito Santiago was humiliated in the media this week after a Puerto Rican customs official detected marijuana (2 oz) in a package addressed to him.  Hardly a week goes by without a story linking some superb athlete to the supposedly debilitating weed.

The professional basketball players —some of whom have enduring loyalties to their brothers back on the streets— missed an opportunity to take a stand in support of their drug of  choice when the collective bargaining agreement was renegotiated in 1999. Under the old contract, NBA rookies could be tested randomly for cocaine and heroin; veterans could be tested only if there was reasonable suspicion they were using. There was no provision forbidding marijuana use, and at the time, according to Selena Roberts of the New York Times, about two-thirds of the players smoked pot as a post-game analgesic and relaxant.

Among the players accused of transgression: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the leading scorer in NBA history (caught with six grams while trying to clear customs at the Toronto airport); Robert Parrish, then the oldest player in the league (and one of the best over the course of his career); Allan Iverson; Marcus Canby; Isaiah Rider… In August ’98  Chris Webber was caught with less than half an ounce in his luggage while passing through the airport in San Juan (costing him his deal with Fila).

When contract negotiations began in the Spring of ’99, Players Association President Billy Hunter was surprised by the force with which league officials pushed for marijuana testing. Instead of insisting that frequent marijuana use need not be debilitating —Jabbar and Parrish are living proof, and that the players had rights to health, happiness, privacy, etc.— Hunter and player rep Patrick Ewing yielded to Commissioner David Stern’s lawyers. They agreed that all players —and coaches and courtside personnel— would submit to peeing in the cup.  Hunter told TV reporter Armen Keteyian “We traded it off for something more important.  Right now, I don’t quite remember what… We did what we had to do to help enhance the image of our players. The appearance was that many of them engaged in the use of marijuana.  The  NBA had  been  pleading  or  crying  for an expanded drug program for  years, so  we took  the high  road and acquiesced.”

According to the agreement, rookies could be tested for mj at any time, but no more than once during training camp and three times  during  the  season. Veterans faced random testing once during the season. First time offenders would have to undergo counseling. Second-time offenders would be fined $15,000. Subsequent violations would result in five-game suspensions.

NBA spokesman Brian MacIntyre crowed at the time,  “Kids look up to us. This is the right thing to do.” Poor Patrick Ewing said,  “The press asked for it, the commissioner asked for it, we used it during the bargaining session to get something we wanted. We gave it up, that’s it. No sense crying about it.”

But there’s an ongoing cost to the players —in addition to the periodic humiliations— in that their individual bargaining power is eroded by marijuana “offenses.” Take, for example, the L.A. Clippers great small forward Lamar Odom, who has tested positive twice now, and had to serve a five-game suspension. When next he negotiates a contract, the owners will say they’re doing him a favor allowing him to remain in the league, given his terrible tendency to sin, and will save themselves millions.

And the pressure to test more often and more rigorously will increase if word ever gets out that marijuana is a performance enhancer.  Recall that Canadian Ross Rebagliati won the Olympic snowboarding championship in Nagano, Japan, then had his medal revoked, then was reinstated as champion when the IOCC concluded that, given its adverse effects on motor coordination, marijuana couldn’t possibly have helped Rebagliati.  The truth is, marijuana can make you looser, which is why many snowboarders (and hoopsters) don’t consider it a no-no.  Maybe it costs you your edge, but that’s not always a bad thing.

White Chocolate (KingsRap 99)

Jason Jason williams
son of the custodian
played in the gymnasium
after it closed
HORSE of course and one-on-one
Older brother used to back him down
Jason had to learn his own
spectacular moves

Practicing with ankle weights,
elbow weights, through the nights
no looks and behind-the-backs,
out-of-sights and off-the-walls
He hung with Randy Moss
Smoked till he got tossed
said you ain’t my boss
and they made him pay the price, twice

Jason Jason Williams
tall enough and sneaky fast
dude could shoot your eyes out
but he’d rather pass to

Chris Weber on the wing
Williamson following
got the ball on a string
Alley-oop, at the hoop
Here come the gallant Serbians
who would not be subservient
cheered on by suburbians
like they opposed the war

and Max cast off as mad
and Barry with his famous dad
a diverse crew whose
passing got contagious
forgiving and courageous
totally outrageous
well ain’t that the point?

Of Jason Jason Williams
wiry, working-cass
dude could shoot your eyes out
but he’s come to….

The Humiliation of Clifford Robinson (May 2006)

The facts, as stated by the Associated Press May 12: “New Jersey forward Clifford Robinson was suspended five games without pay by the NBA on Friday after violating terms of the league’s drug policy for the second time in two seasons. Robinson will miss at least the rest of the Eastern Conference semifinals. His suspension begins Friday night with Game 3 of the Nets’ series against the Miami Heat, and leaves New Jersey without one of its possible options for defending Shaquille O’Neal.

“Robinson was also suspended five games in February 2005 while playing for Golden State. Under terms of last year’s collective bargaining agreement, a player would be suspended five games for a third positive test for marijuana. The 39-year-old Robinson is a valuable reserve for the Nets. He averaged 6.9 points in 80 games this season, his 17th in the NBA.”

Among active NBA players, Cliff Robinson is second only to Dikembe Mutombo in age. What does that say about his marijuana use? The league, i.e. the owners, set him up by insisting that he only use corporate drugs to deal with the pounding his body took. Clifford Robinson was obviously unimpaired as an athlete. By all accounts he was friendly, intelligent, even-tempered un-egotistical -a great teammate. He didn’t like being screamed at by PJ Carlesimo, but he handled the situation more diplomatically than another player did a few years later. Lot of good it did him…

Sprewell verses Carlesimo

Young Latrell moved to Flint with his mom and his dad
who then got taken prisoner in your war on drugs gone mad
Over some marijuana they put another man away
Was that good for General Motors, was it good for the USA?

PJ Carlesimo was the coach at Seton Hall
Never won a championship but PJ got the call
To try his style of leadershit on the players up in the pros
He was Caucasian by the way, the players mostly Negroes

Sprewell won a scholarship to attend the Crimson Tide
Where the athletes lived in segregation camouflaged as pride
He got well-known for defense and always working hard
Nelson drafted him after saying “Why ever draft a guard?”

Carlesimo in Portland for three unpleasant years
Rod Strickland and Clifford Robinson said Let me out of here
And for his mediacrisy, what be PJ’s fate?
A five-year contract to coach at Golden State

A team that was imploding since unloading proud Tyrone
Acquiring Chris Webber who did not like Nellie’s tone
He asked for some changes but Nellie said Nay
Red Auerbach taught him everything, he thought he knew the way

Carlesimo was one of those coaches who must scream
Insults at grown men to mold ‘em into “his” team
He’d scowl and growl to exercise control
And on the floor he tried to make a sycophant of a man named Bimbo Coles

Losing night after losing night in a slow descent to Hell
And every day at practice Coach would denigrate Latrell
Until at last Spree could not take one more nasty crack
And he grabbed him in a headlock for a momentary payback

Then he ran off to the lockers then he stormed back on the floor
To say just like Rod Strickland I won’t work for you no more
The team all in between them, Spree swung out for effect
It was just a way of saying man Here’s your disrespect

It was just a way of telling him This is how it feels
It was just a flash of honesty. It was real
And for this they tried to take his job forever and a day
The liberal arbitrator said No just all season without pay.

The fans all across the dial said We been had
I can’t choke my boss, the double standard makes me mad
And Attorney General Lungren who was supposed to uphold the law
Misstated the facts just trying to win a few votes more.

I hear that there’s a movie out now about a mutiny led by a slave
On the good ship Amistad and Spielberg’s all How brave!
Of course that was another century and the Black men nameless freight
not the celebrated contract-locked-up property of Golden State.

Ball Don’t Lie (April 2013)

The great Rasheed Wallace announced his retirement this week at age 38 after realizing that his surgically repaired foot could not take more pounding from his six-foot, ten-inch frame. He was honest and funny and a three-time all-star. He could play the post and shoot the three —a tall Sativa who provided laughs and insights. He gave the refs honest feedback and for this they slapped him with technical fouls and kicked him out of games. If Rasheed was falsely accused of committing a foul, and the alleged victim then missed his free throw, Rasheed would say “Ball don’t lie,” a brilliant psychological insight that pointed to the guilty conscience of the foul-shot misser and the incompetence of the ref.

Early in his career Wallace was hounded unmericfully by the Portland media after he and Damon Stoudamire got busted for marijuana possession driving home from Seattle after a Trailblazers’ game. Discarding Wallace, Zack Randoph and other lads deemed to lack character by the media has resulted in many long, losing years for the Rose Garden faithful.