Comments on Cannabis from NBA Coaches Highlight Rough Road to League Reform
Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr both spoke rationally about a possible future where weed is allowed in the NBA, but refused to directly call out commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s current rules.
Published on October 31, 2017

Lead photo via Flickr user Keith Allison

The NBA is going to pot, or at least thinking about it more. 

Professional basketball players getting stoned is certainly nothing new, but after retired pro Al Harrington and former NBA commissioner David Stern set the internet and basketball universe on fire last week with Uninterrupted’s “The Concept of Cannabis,” a 15-minute documentary highlighting Harrington’s second career as a ganjapreneur and Stern’s newfound support for cannabis in the NBA, everyone is giving their two cents on the intersection of hoops and herb.

Since Stern admitted to Harrington that he believes “[marijuana] probably should be removed from the banned list,” public figures in every corner of the NBA community have given their opinions on the controversial topic.

Current players including Denver Nuggets Forward Wilson Chandler and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ cannabis-loving sharp shooter JR Smith expressed tacit support for Harrington’s work by posting the documentary on social media, while NBA league spokesman Mike Bass released a statement essentially shooting down any prospect for near-future drug policy reform.

“While [current NBA] commissioner [Adam] Silver has said that we are interested in better understanding the safety and efficacy of medical marijuana, our position remains unchanged regarding the use by current NBA players of marijuana for recreational purposes,” Bass told USA Today.

Fitting in line with labor relations throughout history, players have largely expressed support for a rule change that would benefit them both physically and mentally, while league management would rather ignore the issue until it disappears entirely, or at least moves off the ESPN ticker.

However, when it comes to NBA coaches, a lack of explicit vocal support for cannabis reform has shown just how difficult it will be to make significant, concrete changes to league policy.

In the week since Stern’s comments became public, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy have given their thoughts on marijuana in the NBA, with both coaches hinting at support for a policy change, but neither willing to come out and explicitly support their players’ right to use cannabis.

“I’m not trying to be critical of the NBA all, but they’re going to have to look into that policy,” Van Gundy told a media scrum outside of Pistons practice in Los Angeles late last week. “You have guys playing in Denver, living in Colorado. It’s recreational use that’s legal and you’re telling them you can’t use it without repercussions? I’m not telling Adam Silver and the league what to do, but’s it’s not going to be an easy question as more and more states legalize it for recreational use.”

That may seem like support, but with team doctors still handing out prescription painkillers and players still getting suspended for positive weed tests, Van Gundy’s decision to tiptoe around the subject does little good.

Similarly, coach Kerr, who just last year told reporters that he used marijuana in attempt to treat chronic pain from a botched back surgery, said that he thinks the league will eventually change their cannabis policy, but that he is still skeptical about allowing recreational marijuana use for NBA players.

“The perception of the fans is important in terms of selling our business, but the health of the players should be the most important thing.” Kerr said, before hedging his bets on the controversial subject. “I don’t think it makes sense for everybody to use recreational marijuana, I do think it makes sense to use it for specific injuries. I don’t know how that happens or manifests itself, but it would be wise to look into it and I think every sports league would.”

Again, by playing both sides of the cannabis debate Kerr is subtly passing the buck, conceding to the baseless fear-mongering that lead to prohibition in the first place.

Marijuana might not be the right choice for everyone, but just like the champagne that Kerr swigged straight from the bottle after the Warriors’ NBA Championship win earlier this year, that shouldn’t mean it should be on the league’s banned substance list next to anabolic steroids and heroin.

If Kerr and Van Gundy truly think the NBA should move towards changing its drug policy, they need to actively represent and vocally call for that transformation. Coaches are paid to lead, on and off the court, and if they’re going to continue to speak on weed in the league, it’s about time NBA head honchos took their role in the fight for marijuana reform more seriously, even if it ruffles a few feathers.

Follow Zach Harris on Twitter
Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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