The Short History of Steroid Incidents in the National Basketball Association

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has a very short history of “incidents” involving anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Anabolic steroids have been a prohibited substance since the league’s SPED policy (steroids, performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents) was added to the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug program in 1999.

Only three players have failed the drug test for steroids. These include the Orlando Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis and the Memphis Grizzlies’ O.J. Mayo. And Mayo only tested positive for dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).

One player has alleged that steroids represent a major problem. But Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose quickly backtracked from that assertion.

And for good measure, one former player was once arrested on suspicion of steroid possession. Former Los Angeles Lakers’ Samaki Walker admitted having steroids in his car during a routine traffic stop. Yet, it turned out, he didn’t.

Orlando Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu and Primobolan

Orlando Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu tested positive for methenolone during an NBA-admistered drug-test in December 2012. Methenolone is an anabolic steroid that can be administered orally as well as intramuscularly. It is most commonly known by its most popular trade name Primobolan.

In a statement released by the Orlando Magics, Turkoglu blamed the steroid positive on the inadvertent use of a prohibited steroid provided by his trainer in the summer of 2012.

“While I was back home in Turkey this past summer, I was given a medication by my trainer to help recover more quickly from a shoulder injury. I didn’t know that this was a banned substance and didn’t check before taking it.

“I take full responsibility for anything that goes into my body. This was a complete error in judgment on my part and I apologize to the Orlando Magic organization, the league, my teammates, and the Magic fans. I know I have let down a lot of people and I am truly sorry for my mistake.”

Since Primobolan tablets are generally only detectable by urinalysis for up to 14 days, Turkoglu presumably used the injectable Primobolan Depot which can still be detected a few months after discontinuation.

The NBA announced a 10-game suspension on February 13, 2013. It is expected to cost Turkoglu approximately $2.15 million in lost salary.

Orlando Magic’s Rashard Lewis and Testosterone

Orlando Magic’s Rashard Lewis tested positive for “elevated testosterone levels” according to a statement released by the NBA on August 6, 2009. Since the NBA does not measure serum testosterone levels, the steroid positive is most likely based upon the testosterone:epitestosterone ratio (T:E ratio) urinalysis. The T:E ratio is a putative indicator of exogenous testosterone use.

Lewis blamed the steroid positive on the “honest mistake” of consuming an over-the-counter supplement (in a smoothie) that contained DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). He also pointed to his “skinny” physique as proof that he never used steroids.

“I’ve taken over-the-counter supplements throughout my career,” Lewis said. “It’s a long season and I take stuff you get from health stores — things to keep your immune system up, help your energy level, stuff like that. Early in my career, I was real thin and drank the shakes to try to put on weight…

“Look at me, I’m still skinny as hell. Does it look like I take steroids?,” Lewis answered. “… I’m telling you it was an honest mistake. I would never knowingly put any sort of substance or steroid into my body that is against the rules.”

Most experts considered it unlikely that DHEA could have caused an elevated T:E ratio. DHEA is converted to testosterone at a rate of less than 1.5%. Few studies have shown an effect of low to moderate DHEA supplementation on T:E ratio measurements.

Nonetheless, it is possible that DHEA could have caused Lewis’ elevated T:E ratio. One person, in a four-person study, showed a dose-dependent increase in excess of 6:1 after the consumption of 50, 100 and 150 milligrams of DHEA. The results of that study were reported by Larry Bower in a 1999 study entitled “Oral Dehydroepiandrosterone Supplementation Can Increase the Testosterone/Epitestosterone Ratio”.

Lewis was suspended for 10-games. It resulted in the forfeiture of $1.2 million in salary.

Memphis Grizzlies’ O.J. Mayo and DHEA

Memphis Grizzlies’ O.J. Mayo tested positive fo DHEA according to a statement released by the NBA on January 27, 2011. Few people consider DHEA a legitimate performance-enhancing drug (PED). But it is technically considered an androgenic steroid.

Mayo blamed the “steroid” positive on an “energy drink” he picked up on a whim.

“I didn’t know it had any bad substances in it, and it caused a 10-game suspension,” Mayo said. “It’s not like I went to a GNC and got some Muscle Armor or ordered some supplement off the Internet or anything. It was just a local gas station that kind of got me hemmed up.”

In a statement released by the Grizzlies, Mayo apologized for his “honest mistake.”

“It was an honest mistake, but I take full responsibility for my actions. I apologize to my fans, teammates and the Grizzlies organization for regrettably not doing the necessary research about what supplements I can put in my body,” Mayo said in a statement released by the Grizzlies.

Mayo received a 10-game suspension. The suspension resulted in a forfeiture of $405,109 in salary

Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose and NBA’s Huge Steroid Problem

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose told ESPN the Magazine that the use of performance-enhancing drugs was a “huge” problem in the NBA.

In the May 16, 2011 issue of ESPN the Magazine, Rose was asked, “If 1 equals ‘What are PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs)’? and 10 equals ‘Everybody’s Juicing’ … How big of an issue is illegal enhancing in your sport?”

“Seven,” Rose replied. “It’s huge, and I think we need a level playing field, where nobody has that advantage over the next person.”

After the magazine hit the newsstands, it caused a minor uproar. Rose claimed to have misunderstood the question and strongly refuted the quote attributed to him.

“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,” Rose said. “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.”

Samaki Walker and the Mystery of the Injectable Steroids

Former National Basketball Association (NBA) player Samaki Walker was pulled over by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer during what was described as a routine traffic stop in Kingman, Arizona on July 28, 2011.

Walker was caught trying to eat marijuana in order to conceal it from authorities. But Walker reportedly owned up to the possession of eight vials of injectable anabolic steroids. The former NBA player was playing pro basketball for the Al-Jalaa Aleppo team in Syria at the time. He told DPS officers that the steroids he had were legal in Syria.

Walker was booked into the Mohave County Jail on misdemeanor steroid and marijuana charges.

However, it turned out that the vials thought to have contained anabolic steroids didn’t contain any illegal substances after all. Charges were subsequently modified as a result.

Are Steroids a Problem in the NBA?

As you can see, there has been little evidence within the sport to suggest a “steroid problem” in the NBA. But why would highly-paid elite athletes in basketball be any different from their counterparts in sports known to have “steroid problems”?

Performance-enhancing drugs exist in all elite sports. We shouldn’t expect the NBA to be an exception. Basketball players can benefit from steroids, human growth hormone (hGH), erythropoietin (EPO) and a variety of other PEDs. If they can benefit, they will use.

It is amazing that a sport requires a “scandal” before it can acknowledge the issue of PEDs. Athletics. Baseball. Cycling. After Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong, we all know how pervasive steroids and PEDs are in those sports. Why do we need to go through the same cycle with every other sport e.g. basketball, tennis, rugby, in order to recognize the obvious?

Sports are about performance. PEDs enhance performance. One plus two equals three.

Why not assume that steroids and PEDs are pervasive in all elite sports? Why not accept that the prohibition-based approach to doping hasn’t worked?

And move on.

National Basketball Association (NBA) and anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs
National Basketball Association (NBA) and anabolic steroids and performance-enhancing drugs


  1. Nicholas says

    There is absolutely no reason to believe PED’s are used in the NBA. They don’t improve your ability to play the game in anyway. Basketball is a sport of intelligence and natural athleticism. Other sports like football, baseball, and cycling require strength as the predominant performance skill. In basketball you don;t need strength to make free throws. Besides, taking steroids would hurt you in basketball. Adding weight to your body would slow you down. Highly disagree with your last portion Millard.

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