MIAMI — If the NBA is ever found to have an ongoing problem with performance-enhancing drugs — be it isolated, simmering, widespread or rampant — the smoking gun in breaking that news is unlikely to be a weeks-old, throwaway remark by Chicago’s Derrick Rose.
That’s why the minor hubbub that flared up Sunday morning prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals was more silly than sensational.
It did get enough traction that Rose, through the Bulls, was moved to issue a statement a few hours before tipoff. It read:
“Regarding the quote attributed to me in ESPN The Magazine, I do not recall making the statement nor do I recall the question being asked. If that was my response to any question, I clearly misunderstood what was asked of me. But, let me be clear, I do not believe there is a performance enhancing drug problem in the NBA.”
Let the record show that neither the NBA nor the Players’ Association believe that, either. They maintain that the testing procedures and policies agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement and abided by on all sides are, in fact, policing the issue properly.
That’s why the response attributed to Rose in the May 16 issue of the bi-weekly ESPN publication was so jarring — and hard to process. Rose was one of several athletes across various sports allegedly asked “How big a problem is illegal enhancing in your sport?” The athletes were instructed to respond on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 as “What are PEDs?” and 10 as “Everybody’s juicing!”
Rose’s response was printed as: “Seven. It’s huge and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person.”
Two things happened Sunday to further the “story” that had laid around for a couple of weeks (the May 30 issue of ESPN The Mag already is out). First, Miami’s Dwyane Wade was asked about it, and PED use in the NBA, after the Heat’s shootaround session at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“No. I just don’t think there is [a steroid problem in the NBA],” Wade said. “It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced in basketball. Never seen it. It’s nothing that I think takes place.” Wade said he wasn’t aware of the comment attributed to Rose in the magazine.
The second thing that happened was, as mainstream reporters began to learn and inquire about the remark, it became clear that the format left a lot to be desired journalistically. The athletes’ answers weren’t developed. The 1-to-10 feature regularly appears in the magazine, with comments clipped tight and lacking context that might have helped. No one from ESPN followed up, in any other form, on what presumably would have been a major story.
And the possibility loomed large that what Rose was asked, or thought he was asked, differed significantly from what showed up on the final magazine page. That was the view of a Bull spokesman, who quickly denied the quote on Rose’s behalf that he was alleging a current, ongoing problem in the NBA.
The Chicago Tribune also reported:
One person close to Rose said the question was posed to him as “How big of a problem would it be if steroid use were rampant in the NBA?”
Fitting answers to questions reconfigured-and-slanted later happens sometimes in print journalism. It’s a shoddy practice, mostly thwarted these days by video or audio recordings of most interviews. But without pictures or sound of this Q&A exchange between Rose and the reporter, it’s hard to know if what was asked –- and what was answered -– were precisely as portrayed in the one-page, graphics-heavy feature.
The NBA hasn’t avoided the PED issue completely. Back in 2000, Miami forward Don MacLean was suspended for five games after testing positive for steroids. In August 2009, Orlando’s Rashard Lewis was suspended 10 games for use of a nutritional supplement that violated the league’s drug policy. Memphis’ O.J. Mayo suffered the same penalty for a similar over-the-counter infraction in January.
But that Rose would be pulling back a curtain whistleblower in such a casual, throwaway manner –- on a matter about which, as a third-year player, he might have only limited knowledge — led to skepticism robust enough that it didn’t need steroids.