While the medical cannabis movement continues to grow across the United States, professional athletes have had to sit on the sidelines of the issue regardless of the state they reside in. Though the issue of whether athletes should have access to medical cannabis or not has been primarily centered around the NFL, this past week has given rise to a potential movement in the NBA.
Earlier this week, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made a public announcement that he had tried cannabis as a treatment for his severe back injury last year. This was an incredibly surprising announcement considering the NBA’s harsh stance against marijuana. Now, legendary Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson has stated that he had used cannabis to treat his own back pain while he was a player in the late '60s.
While Jackson was playing on New York Knicks—the team he is currently president of— he had a spinal surgery that kept him sidelined for the entire 1969-70 season. According to the New York Knicks president, he had used cannabis during that time to help recover from the ensuing back pain.
"I was smoking marijuana during that period of time," Jackson recently said to CBS Sports Network’s James Herbert. "I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever. But I never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation."
During his interview, Jackson went on to talk about how the league has tried to stop players from using cannabis to no avail, and that “it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA”. While he doesn’t outspokenly support use in the NBA, he believes that the league has to figure out another way to deal with it besides handing out harsh penalties.
For those who know about Phil Jackson, his recent statement on cannabis isn’t exactly shocking. In his 1975 autobiography “Maverick”, he discusses his use of marijuana and LSD at great length. But since his candid autobiography, the 11-time NBA champion has been more private about his views out of embarrassment for being portrayed as a hippie by the sports media.
It's important to note that Jackson's recent statement is quite reserved. He doesn’t come out in full-fledged support for medical or recreational use, nor does he claim that he’s used cannabis since his time as a player. He's simply stating that NBA players have and will smoke marijuana, and thus the league needs to create a better way of dealing with this cannabis use. Nonethless, his and Kerr's recent claims help to bring forth a critical conversation that needs to be had in both the NBA and beyond.