Chris Bosh

When Toronto-based doctor Anthony Galea was arrested in October 2009 after his assistant was busted the previous month for trying to bring substances into the U.S. which included Human Growth Hormone (HGH), the big story was that Tiger Woods was one of Galea’s high-profile athlete clients. Now, Sports Illustrated reports that Chris Bosh saw Galea last year to help him recover from a left-hamstring injury that caused him to miss training camp.

Galea specializes in platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy — where a patient’s blood is extracted and then spun in a centrifuge to create a concentrated dose of tissue-healing platelets which are then injected into the patient’s injured area. Based on Galea’s list of high-profile clients which includes Woods, Bosh, Olympic swimmer Dara Torres and former NFL running back Jamal Lewis, it’s clear that he had a stellar reputation among the sports elite. What his famous patients may or may not have known is that Galea included HGH in some of his PRP injections, as alleged by court documents. If it’s proven in court that Bosh was one of the beneficiaries of this genetic cocktail, he’ll likely face a 10-game suspension under the terms of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Looking at Chris Bosh’s slender frame, he probably doesn’t strike you as the most likely NBA player to use performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Of course, Rashard Lewis probably didn’t register on your radar as a likely PED user before he received a 10-game suspension for testing positive for a testosterone-producing steroid. If you didn’t make the joke yourself, you probably heard it from someone else: “If Rashard Lewis used steroids, he should ask for his money back.”

When many of us think of PED users, we remember Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when they reinvigorated Major League Baseball in 1998. That Sports Illustrated cover declaring them as Sportsmen of the Year is iconic for a very different reason now than it was 12 years ago. It’s symbolic of our willful ignorance of what was going on right under our noses that we simply didn’t want to acknowledge. As McGwire said in his now hilariously ironic guest appearance on The Simpsons: “Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?”

It doesn’t seem to make sense that NBA players would use PEDs like steroids or HGH. They can’t help you improve your jumpshot or your crossover dribble. Similarly, there are people who will point out that PEDs can’t help you hit a baseball — and yet they’re banned from Major League Baseball just as they are banned from the NBA.

At one point last season, my father was watching a Raptors-Magic game with me and when he first saw Dwight Howard’s impressively muscular frame, he said, “That guy’s definitely on steroids.” I came to Dwight’s defense and insisted that he’s always had a big frame and it’s quite possible that he achieved his awesome physique naturally. In spite of the cynicism that many sports fans and commentators now have on this issue, I continue to believe that athletes should be given the benefit of the doubt until concrete evidence proves otherwise.

I’m not nearly as judgmental as a lot of people are about PEDs in sports. If I could have taken drugs that would have made me tall and athletic enough to play in the NBA, I assure you I would have looked into it. “You want to inject me with a combination of cheetah and giraffe blood? Sure thing. My assistant will write you a check while I pull down my pants.”

With this mindset, it strikes me as naive that so few people seem to think PEDs are an issue in the NBA. Hell, if Rashard Lewis was on the juice (knowingly or unknowingly), doesn’t that mean most NBA players should be suspect? It sucks that it’s come to this, but I know that some of you have thought what my dad thought when he saw Dwight Howard. And that’s not fair to Dwight, but these are the times we live in.

If Chris Bosh does end up receiving the mandatory 10-game suspension for using HGH, it will create a brief ripple of scandal which will eventually be overlooked since he’s now merely the third-best player on his team. But if a superstar like LeBron James ever gets exposed in a similar scandal, that will elicit an entirely different reaction. Regardless, the Galea story leads me to believe that it’s probably only a matter of time before one of the biggest NBA stars is cast into disrepute from using PEDs.

All of this speculative talk leads us to this inevitable question: Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see Dwight Howard dunk on a 12-foot basket again?

Comments (19)

  1. Great point of view on this, Scott. It is definitely a complicated, messy issue where the questions of concern are more philosophical than anything. As you ask, how much do we want truth if it gets in the way of entertainment? As you say, there is no smoking gun related to the NBA and HGH, but it is still something worthy of our attention/awareness.

    If anyone is interested, we did a two-part piece about this over at the OnDeckCircle last spring, and sparked a conversation that Ziller and Matt Watson from FanHouse, and Shoals at FreeDarko, amongst others, all weighed in on (can’t provide links to any of the above due to comment spam protection).

    Cheers.

  2. Hopefully both Stern and Billy Hunter have their eyes on this, knowing that the NBA would suffer a much greater credibility hit than major league baseball for a PED scandal. I know that sounds crazy, but it would be only the latest double-standard for NBA players versus other professional athletes.

  3. Alex: Not sure I agree with you there about what a PED scandal would do to the NBA’s image. I think no sport will take a harder hit than baseball because fans felt that the tradition and history of the game was spat upon. Baseball fans were really attached to the single-season and career home run records, and the way so many of them revile Barry Bonds doesn’t really have a parallel in another sport. I don’t think there’s any individual NBA record that carries as much meaning for American sports fans as the home run record did.

  4. I’m not sure I agree that basic, old-fashioned steroids couldn’t help an NBA player. Having a lot of muscles has sure helped Ron Artest, LeBron James, and many others. But even if you discount that possibility, the thing is: there are all kinds of PEDs that don’t necessarily give you huge muscles. HGH for example is mainly used to recover from injury faster.

    Personally I think it’s already happening and that a scandal is inevitable. This is a field where moving from the top 20% to the top 10% means a massive, life-altering jump in pay. You think people aren’t going to do everything they can to get an edge?

    Also, I have a hard time looking at guys like Dwight Howard, LeBron James and others with similar builds, and not at least wondering.

  5. can’t we just let robots play

  6. pudi: I wouldn’t necessarily be against the idea of robot refs, but I don’t want to imagine the NBA without the likes of Ron Artest. I don’t think you can program that kind of random craziness.

  7. well if it’s the spectacle you are after then how about bringing back gladiator death battles

  8. Hey man, if I had that kind of clout, I’d be watching a gladiator death batlle right now instead of responding to your comment. Be careful what you wish for.

  9. me dunno i wouldn’t mind seeing lebrons talents in about 5 or 6 different piles

  10. “They can’t help you improve your jumpshot or your crossover dribble.”

    Dear Scott,

    unfortunately you are incorrect here.

    Steroids and other PEDs can certainly help improve your cross over dribble, your jumpshot, your golf swing, and your aim in darts. That why they are called performance enhancing drugs.

    This came up on the SI NBA podcast. Phoenix’s head trainer has to break it to the hosts.

  11. The before and after pictures of Rondo are getting close to Bonds territory.

  12. I think many players are involved in it one way or another. Bosh put on a little bit too much pound last off season. American is the number place where sport players can use it and get away from it. I think many players are on it but the nba is staying far from that topic.

  13. PED’s definitely effects baseball players performance. Since the ban, and subsequent crack down in baseball, we saw a 3 year drought, where no player hit over 50 HR’s (until today), and this year has been the best year for pitchers than any other season in MLB history with no-hitters and perfect games.

  14. The thing with PEDs are that you don’t just do them and all of sudden get better. HGH is a good way to get over injuries faster and better. Steroids help people work out, etc. Does injecting yourself with steroids mean you’ll be a better player? No. Lewis proved that last year (heyooooooo). Athletes use them. Alot. Every sport has players using them.

    Here’s the thing: In moderation steroids and especially HGH aren’t that bad. Athletes will use them regardless, so I say let’s skip about 10 years of “scandal” and just have them regulated in pro sports. The ONLY way to get rid of them completely is to test everyone everyday for the entire length of their contract. That’s too expensive and not going to happen. Might as well regulate them properly instead of banning them incompetently..

  15. I don’t think Dwight’s on the juice, but given the insane practice and gym rat work he puts in, a little help recovering certainly wouldn’t hurt…

    I hope the NBA’s mostly clean, but given the pressure to get back from injury especially, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out there’s a bit of doping going on to quicken recovery times. The old miracle recovery might just be a creation of modern sports medicine.

  16. The best reason for NBA players to be taking certain PEDs like HGH is for muscle recovery and to be able to heal faster following injuries. Their schedule is nuts…back-to-backs, 4 games in 5 nights with practices thrown in, long seasons (for some), etc. Obviously it’s also hard not to notice how huge and muscular so many players are these days compared to earlier decades. Sure, you can attribute some of this to increased emphasis on working out, better nutrition etc., but all of this?

    Billy Hunter and others who say PEDs aren’t needed by NBA players are full of crapola. They’ll never consent to blood tests unless a huge scandal breaks out and fans/business start dropping.

  17. One other point about the debate over legalization. I think there’s a case to be made for it, assuming there’s solid medical evidence to suggest that regulated/moderated use of PEDs isn’t harmful (probably true but tricky to define), but once it’s legalized there’s suddenly that much more pressure on every athlete who isn’t taking that stuff to go ahead and use it. Unless you’re an athlete who is just unusually talented and/or genetically gifted, you’re basically putting yourself at a disadvantage if you don’t use the stuff while your competitors are. I’m not so sure that’s good for sports or fair to athletes.

  18. I agree on Dwight. He’s the perpetual nice guy while it’s pretty well known that ‘roids make you a complete jagoff.

  19. I never understood the notion that PEDs cannot help you in basketball. No one is saying that PEDs alone makes you a better basketball player but if you have those skills, then it can help a lot. If you’re a little bit faster on the break, or can a jump a little higher to take on the big men, or carry 275 pounds but not lose speed and quickness, I don’t know how that can’t help you. I think Wade uses and I think his ability to be 230 or however much he weighs but still be cat-like quick plays an immense role in his success. He wouldn’t be the same player if he couldn’t carry an immense amount of bulk on his frame without sacrificing athleticism. Same for Lebron and Howard. Another key thing about PEDs is that they boost your endurance. That can come in handy during fourth quarters when others are dragging a bit but you haven’t lost your stamina.

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