Basketball / BJ-League

League to test all players for drugs after Washington arrest

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

After Osaka Evessa star Lynn Washington’s Tuesday arrest for his alleged involvement in smuggling a package (1 kg to 1.5 kg, various published reports stated) of marijuana into Japan in November, the bj-league reacted by announcing league-wide drug testing of players will be conducted by Friday.

Further policy details were to emerge on Thursday during a meeting with representatives of all 19 teams, followed by a news conference in Tokyo.

“We’re deeply disappointed with this case and express our apology to the partner companies, all involved in basketball and the boosters all over Japan who love basketball from the bottom of their hearts,” commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi said in statement issued by the league.

“Washington has been denying his involvement with this case and the bj-league is investigating the facts. However, no matter what result turns out, we take it very significant that one of our players who should provide people with dreams and make them impressed has been involved in this kind of case.”

All players will be required to participate in the drug testing, the commissioner said, adding that players who refuse to do so will be dropped from their teams’ respective rosters.

“We will announce the results of the test, and make every effort to regain the (public’s) confidence in us,” Kawachi said.

The rival JBL conducts random drug testing, according to a hoop insider.

Since the bj-league began in the fall of 2005, extensive drug testing has not been in place, multiple sources told this newspaper.

One American player who requested anonymity, who has suited up for three teams and has played in the bj-league since day one, said he’s never been tested for drugs.

Former Saitama Broncos player and coach David Benoit, who also guided the Kyoto Hannaryz for most of their first season in 2009-10, said he was never ordered to take a drug test during his time as a JBL player and bj-league player and bench boss.

In interviews conducted by The Japan Times on Wednesday, there was mixed reaction to the league’s planned drug testing before all the details were revealed.

“Drug testing is fine with me,” one player said, “because I don’t smoke (marijuana), but I know plenty of (players) that do. I don’t think it’s fair to just spring it on guys like that because this is how the American mind works: If a league doesn’t test, then they smoke, but if a league does test, then they don’t. So to not have tested all year and all of a sudden say, ‘Now we are testing,’ is not fair in my opinion.

“But like I said, I have no worries at all, so it is what it is.”

Oita HeatDevils guard Matt Lottich, who teamed up with Washington to help the Evessa win three straight championships (2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08), is in favor of drug testing.

“I support league-wide drug testing,” Lottich said. “. . .It is standard procedure when dealing in professional athletics.”

Chiba Jets coach Eric Gardow supports drug testing because “there’s no place in sports for drugs.”

“As a pro basketball coach, I think it should be required. It should be random. That’s my personal feeling,” Gardow added.

Another league insider said, “The league is in a tough situation and is forced to do something. Drug tests are in place to discourage use.

“Among athletes who do use recreational drugs, most stop using while in leagues with random drug tests. So anyone who may be caught in this week’s league-wide tests probably wouldn’t have been using if an established random drug testing policy had been in place.

“I don’t know if Lynn is guilty of anything or not. But it appears that he is being investigated not for using, but possibly importing and distributing, which not even random drug tests could detect.”

Shimane Susanoo Magic coach Zeljko Pavlicevic said the allegations against Washington are a serious issue, but he already insisted on drug testing for his club.

“The situation with Lynn is very bad for him, for his family, the bj-league and basketball,” Pavlicevic said.

“For me, drug testing (is required) before all players sign a contract, not only imports, and one or two players (randomly) every two or three months,” he added.

“Now it is too late for the league’s image and he (Washington) was a key man for advertising.”

Oita HeatDevils center Taj Finger, a Stanford University product, is also a proponent of the league’s plan to conduct drug testing.

“I have played in leagues that drug test, I have played in ones that don’t,” Finger said. “To me, it’s not a big deal.

“Even though it is a knee-jerk reaction because Lynn was an (alleged) isolated incident, the actions of one player are in no way a reflection of the rest of the players in the league, which sadly, it probably will be in the eyes of some fans.

“With that said, I can completely understand how in the aftermath of the situation the league would want to make it visible to the public that the bj-league is a respectable and professional organization.”

The league’s hands-off approach to this issue has made it look foolish, other sources contend.

“I don’t really understand exactly what making everybody take a drug test will do for the league,” one source said. “I honestly think it will make the league look bad if there are guys out there doing drugs because they are going to be exposed. I believe if you are going to test players, then always test players from beginning of the season until the end.”

In fact, Shiga Lakestars coach Alan Westover, a longtime hoop supervisor and bench assistant in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL), said there’s no reason the bj-league shouldn’t have had mandatory regular drug testing in the past.

“I’m not surprised by the drug testing, and thought that they would be doing it regularly anyway,” Westover said. “Our guys were tested frequently in Australia, though they were looking for performance-enhancing drugs — steroids — as they do in FIBA and the Olympics and world championships.

“I really don’t think there’s a drug problem here in the bj-league, and I don’t think anyone will be found positive, but I could be wrong.

“Personally, I can understand testing players, but then I also feel that you should be testing everyone — bus drivers, pilots, teachers, politicians, etc.

“It’s a bit unfortunate for our league, but (expletive) happens, and life and basketball will get over it, and I’m sure that our league will continue to grow, and this won’t affect performances.”

Another source, a longtime player, offered this assessment of the situation:

“This might be a knee-jerk reaction by the bj-league to save face.

“Maybe they should have been testing since the beginning. At the same time, drug use is such a taboo in this country. Do they even know what they are looking for?”

Nevertheless, despite his skeptical reaction, the source believes the league’s top brass made the right call.

“They are not testing because they think it’s good for basketball or because they want to send a good message to young fans, they are testing because they feel they have to now because of what happened,” he added.

“Drug testing is always a touchy subject, some players are against it. There will be some negative reactions, but at the end of the day it is good. It advocates antidrug use, plus all the top-tier pro leagues test.”

An Evessa player dished out this insight on Wednesday evening:

“The mandatory drug test everyone is now taking is obviously a knee-jerk reaction. The league definitely should have already had drug testing in place — before the season starts and upon new player arrivals — just as it is in Europe.

“For a country that does so many things rule-wise by the book, I was surprised to learn that testing didn’t exist in this league. However, as I always tell you, this is still a very young league that seems to just make things up as they go. Rules get put into place because of things like this, so as bad as this is for the bj-league, hopefully league officials open their eyes to more situations that constitute professionalism and can make the league better in the future.”

One coach summed up his feelings this way:

“I’m not a fan of drug testing, but if it’s going to happen it should happen at the beginning of each season. I feel the drug testing request in this case is more a publicity stunt than anything.

“I’m not sure why all are being tested for the sin of one person. There’s no connection between Lynn in Osaka and any other person in the league, so making it appear that it could be a league-wide problem potentially could do more harm than good in the public eye.

“This is Lynn’s problem and Lynn’s problem alone unless there’s strong proof showing otherwise they’re not telling us, which I doubt.”

A current JBL player lashed out at the bj-league’s shortcomings in handling this issue.

“Now that the bj-league is under the JBA umbrella, they are also under FIBA authority. To not have JADA (Japan Anti-Doping Agency) come in and test, is inexcusable,” he said.

He added: “Now, if the bj-league and its respective teams can’t find testing fees in their budget, they shouldn’t expand (with new) teams or run a league in this era, when clean games are encouraged more than before.

“Image-wise it makes the bj-league seem like they are providing a tainted product. I hope they can clean up this mess. . .”