Are Steroids Having an Impact on the NBA?

mike 'shotgun' towleCorrespondent IMarch 25, 2009

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 25:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic is fouled by Al Harrington #7 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden February 25, 2009 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Everyone insists steroids have no place in the NBA and it's not a problem.

Players argue the prototypical NBA body is lean, long, and needs to endure a hectic schedule which a bulked up body on steroids couldn't handle.

Therein lies the point in the problem where I get lost.

I thought steroids were supposed to make you stronger, not more fragile. You would think that a stronger body would recover faster game to game, which over 82 games would appear quite attractive.

Players and trainers paint a picture of some bulky Hercules crashing down the court, tearing up his knees with thousands of pounds of excess pressure. Is there a particular reason they're being so dramatic?

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, people usually exaggerate when they have something to hide, or they're in the dark.

I'm not saying that's what they're doing and I'm not saying that's what they're not doing. I'm not godlike-enough to read minds. But the long and lean player of old is becoming, well, old. Many of them are already long gone.

The new NBA is not loaded with massive players, but a lot of its top players are.

I watched Team USA play an exhibition match against Lithuania in the summer of 2006 and what struck me the most about LeBron James was he actually looked bigger than Dwight Howard.

Maybe it's because I started in the nose-bleeds before sneaking down into the lower seats, but he was chiseled out of boulder, and from that far away the two inch height difference wasn't obvious. His shoulders, however, were impossible to miss.

Is that what this whole article is about, one man's interpretation of what he saw from the nosebleeds one game two summers ago? Not really.

This article is about muscle and it's impact on the game. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant are four of the more dominant players in the NBA. The only one of them who fits the lean and long description is Kobe, and he's not exactly skinny.

Without a doubt, NBA stars like Kobe and Tracy McGrady look skinny from the TV screen and maybe in real life. But call it the stretch-effect. Most people agree that short dudes look bulky easier, since the same muscle mass as a taller person occupies a smaller area on the body. It's forced to grow outwards.

If shorter people can look bulkier, then taller people should appear thinner. So you look at an NBA player and think, "He's ripped, but not quite jacked," when he's probably stronger than you realize.

Let's stop assuming NBA players are hurt by muscle. They've actually got quite a lot of it, and the better players are usually the stronger ones. Not always, but it's a growing trend.

Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, and Earl Boykins all bench press 300 lbs and up. Shaq claims, for what it's worth, his max is 455 lbs. These are all seven footers, except for lil' Earl. They're all lean, except for Shaq, and maybe Bynum depending who you ask. Still, Bynum hardly looks like an NFL linebacker.

The bench press is just one way to measure how strong a person is. I might not know how much LeBron can bench press, but I do know he can carry a team on his back—his and the opposition's.

I've heard ridiculous comments criticizing LeBron's skills, citing his bulk as the only reason he steamrolls to the hoop with such ease. Some think he's not good, just big.

Well, he's both good and big. Together you have LeBron. He's near Karl Malone's size (6'8, 250), near Michael Jordan's body control, and near Magic Johnson's court vision.

Enter Dwayne Wade into the picture, and you have a 6'5" player who's so bulky you would never have guessed his height. And with all that muscle he's packing, he still weaves through defenses like a running back, and flies through the air like a mini-Jordan. It ain't slowing him down. He hangs, too.

Do we even need discuss Dwight Howard? The man makes Amare Stoudemire look like a kid. Amare makes other people look like kids. Amare is a beast. Dwight is a freak. Two years ago Lebron looked bigger from the nosebleeds. Today, Dwight will give Lebron a nosebleed.

If you had to guess the strongest player in the NBA based on performance alone, Shaq not included, you'd be hard-pressed to choose someone other than Dwight. He has a knack for reminding us, too, with those tight muscle shirts he wears any chance he gets.

With all that muscle you'd assume he couldn't run, jump, or move, especially over an 82 game schedule. Any day now we should be expecting Superman to crash and burn? Any day now...

I'm not saying the NBA has a hidden love-affair with steroids. Their open love affair with marijuana kind of throws that possibility out the window. Nor am I saying that at least their best players are doing it.

What I'm saying is it wouldn't hurt as much as the NBA wants us to think it would. Do Olympic sprinters look like they couldn't play basketball to you? How about Carl Lewis? Are they so massive that their knees couldn't handle the same rigorous schedule as a bunch of pot-heads?

People assume that steroids only give you huge chests and arms. No one considers the legs and core of the body, which could give you an amazing vertical jump. People assume that you can't do steroids and just get a little stronger. They think there's a magical leap from human to The Incredible HULK.

Playing basketball against stronger players is incredibly difficult at times. They can bull through you on offense, and slow you down on defense. They block you out for rebounds, and make you work harder without the ball. It completely drains your energy.

The only way for a skinny player to have the same energy draining effect is for them to run around through a lot of picks like Reggie Miller or Richard Hamilton. Many NBA players smoke too much dope for that kind of exercise.

With today's 20 million dollar a year contracts, and super-agile superstars blowing up myths of the bulky player, it's only a matter of time before someone gets the idea that, "Maybe steroids could help."

I won't be mad if it happens. In fact, if Jameer Nelson one day shatters a backboard, I might even try doing them myself.