Of Performance-Enhancing Drugs and Performance-Explaining Statements

August 6th, 2009 by John Krolik

(Link to comic)

On Rashard Lewis, the “big” news of the day: This will be covered from a variety of angles, so I’ll just go through a few points:

-People need to open their minds up about what performance-enhancing drugs can do. Speed is a function of muscle. Recovery time. Endurance. Lateral movement. And raw strength is a lot more important in basketball than people realize-even among the little guards, finishing inside is so important, and a lot of that is a function of strength.

-Basically, stop perpetuating the myth that steroids wouldn’t help basketball players. Every sport has tried to maintain this illusion, and it’s just not true. Ted Williams said he didn’t add muscle because it would slow down his bat, and Bonds told a similar tale. Golfers didn’t need to be in great shape, until Tiger Woods came along and started dominating everyone because of his fitness level.

And if being ripped is so unimportant, why does every team still have a full gym with heavily utilized weight equipment? Didn’t MJ start seriously weight-training with Grover about a decade and a half ago? When the Cavs came to LA, I talked with Andrew Bynum’s position coach, who told me, completely amazed, that LeBron had done into the weight room and done a full-out, programmed weight workout on game-day. LeBron can do that because he’s the kind of freak who can do that and then play a basketball game, and it ultimately helps to give him his ridiculous physcial advantage.

Well, a lot of what steroids do is help you get through workouts like that, and would allow some guys who aren’t of a different species like LeBron still get a semblance of the physical edge he enjoys.

To finish this off with an MMA analogy, because this is unoficially MMA week around these parts, BJ Penn was talking before UFC 94 about how George St. Pierre’s huge physical advantage didn’t scare him, because fighting was about “skill.” He got physically dominated, and now he’s making (baseless) steroid accusations, which is a pretty rapid change in tune. In pretty much any sport, a physical advantage is always an advantage, and hence steroids will always help.

-That said, I really feel nothing resembling outrage about this finding, even though a “tainted” team knocked us out of the playoffs. I mean, technically, if he’d been found out when it happened, he would’ve been banned from playoff games and everything might have changed, but come on. Maybe I am a hypocrite, because I think I’d feel different if it was a power guy like Dwight Howard, who generally has higher testosterone levels in his shave clippings than Rashard Lewis has in his entire body. It’s just hard to feel like a finesse guy like Lewis cheated everybody; he still had to make those threes. And bitching about unfairness isn’t going to make the Cavs champions, it just makes them sore losers. (I again refer you to the Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn aftermath, only this time with the “greasing scandal.”)

-How big of a deal do you think this would be if the Cavs had won the series and it was LeBron with the failed test?

Okay, onto LeBron’s quotes from the National Association of Black Jounalists Sports Taskforce conference, via Ball Don’t Lie:

LeBron talked for a while, but the important takeaways were his statements on the “controversies” that have come his way this summer: for the first time, public opinion is starting to turn against LeBron, and he addressed some of those concerns. By the way, the opinion here is that all of this “controversy” with LeBron being arrogant and disconnected from the world has everything to do with the Cavaliers losing-history is the propaganda of the victors, and that’s about all there is to it sometimes. It’s swagger when you win, but arrogance when you lose-wasn’t it a few months ago was it that LeBron was being hailed as the perfect team leader? How perfect does this man’s personality need to be? The disconnect this off-season seems to be that the public wants a humbled LeBron, because for the first time his team failed to meet expectations, but LeBron only knows how to be the cocky, goofy, child of destiny that got him to where he is.

I’m not saying that LeBron hasn’t made missteps, with the most egregious one being his classless behavior after the game 6 loss to the Magic. I’m on record against it, and I stick by it.

Here’s what LeBron had to say about the snub:

“I wouldn’t have done it the same. I would have done the media. Looking back on it, without you guys, there’s no LeBron James, D-Wade, Tiger Woods or no Peyton Manning. If I could have started over again, I would have done the media. As I thought about it I could see why people were talking about because your job starts when mine ends.

“But as far as the dunk or whatever car I’m driving, some things you shouldn’t comment and some things you should. I look at the no handshake like this — during the regular season, no one ever shakes hands. You move on to the next game. I congratulated Dwight Howard(notes) through email and told him good luck in the Finals. Shaking hands is not a big deal to me. It’s not being a sore loser, it’s moving on. Sometimes people want you to accept losing and I’ll never accept losing.”

I like the full apology about the media, and he said it for precisely the right reasons. However, I would’ve liked to see an apology for the no-handshake thing. I see LeBron’s point, but there was no game between these teams after the buzzer sounded, and it’s a common display of class. If shaking hands isn’t a big deal to you, then suck it up and do it, because clearly it is to some people. It doesn’t mean you’re accepting losing, it just means that you do the right thing in defeat and show class.

On dunkgate:

“I never told anyone to confiscate any tapes. Nike has a no videotape policy at pick-up games. They’ve always done that. Now that LeBron is involved, it’s blown up. It’s a play that happens in basketball all the time. You can go on YouTube and see me being dunked on by a lot of guys. I like to call myself a shot blocker and [getting dunked on] tends to happen. Jordan Crawford is going to be a good basketball player …”

I have no idea whether or not the Nike policy is true-it seems like a plausible explanation to me, and I’m willing to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt on the issue. However, if people want to believe he did ask for the tapes to be pulled, I can’t really say I blame them. He said the right thing in terms of how he’s been dunked on before and will be again, and was good to praise Crawford. My only qualm is that when you’re trying to convince the world you don’t have an out-of-control ego, you probably should refrain from referring to yourself in the 3rd person entirely.

On Shaq:

“Wow, anytime you can get a guy like that. I was asked [by management if I] would you like him to be a part of this team and I said, ‘Of course. I’ve never had a low-post presence since I’ve been in the league. I’d love it.’

“I can defer to a teammate. If Shaq is going, I’m OK. I know one thing that’s going to happen; you can’t check Shaq one-on-one. I can use some of my athleticism when a double team comes and slash to the rim. He’s a very good passer so he’ll just throw it at the rim and I’ll go get it. This will benefit ‘Z’ [Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes)] because he can go against second-tier guys. Shaq will be very big for us. I can be more of a threat. No matter if I catch it I can spot up and I’ll still have a live dribble. I don’t have to settle for taking a shot. Instead of dribbling the ball up where guys can pressure me. If I’m catching the ball out of double teams from Shaq, I can become a shooter. Now I can drive.”

Well, Shaq’s not coming off the bench. I don’t see how Z will be all that effective against 2nd units, seing how bad he is at creating his own shot, but I think management values LeBron’s opinion even more than mine. LeBron does seem to understand how Shaq is going to help his game, so that’s good.

On 2010 Free Agency:

“I hope so. I signed a contract in 2006 with a three-year extension to leave my options open. Hopefully everything works out. I’m not ashamed of anything in Cleveland … I’m looking forward to this season and we’ll see what happens.”

That’s actually a bit stronger than he’s been in previous statements-he’s definitely thrown down a bit of a gauntlet. What I took away is that he’d like to stay in Cleveland with all things being equal, but will leave if he doesn’t think this is the place for him to win championships. Basically,  what I hear him saying is that if there’s no championship next year, it’s time for a serious decision to happen. One thing we know about this offseason for LeBron: no matter how many viral video scandals he’s a part of, he will have a crazier summer next year.