The grind of the 82-game NBA season can take its toll on anyone. Luckily, NBA teams give players all the resources for rest and recovery. From nutrition and rehab to mental health and wellness, players have access to all the best in the business.
But this abundance in resources doesn’t mean it’s easy to maintain peak performance throughout the grueling season. Some players may still be tempted by performance-enhancing drugs (PED), mood-boosting stimulants, and other substances that can give them a leg up over their opponents.
So, it’s only fair to ask: Are NBA players tested for drugs?
What is the NBA’s Drug Testing Policy?
One of the cornerstones of the NBA is its commitment to fair play, and there’s nothing that encapsulates this more than Article 33 or the Anti-Drug Program and Substance Abuse Treatment. It’s a provision in the 2023 Collective Bargaining Agreement that describes the rules, procedures, and sanctions for players who violate the NBA drug policy.
It also promotes a healthy and clean environment for its players and kids still aspiring to enter the league.
Through this provision, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) have come to an agreement that stipulates:
- Active players will be subject to several random, unannounced drug tests every season.
- Any player who fails or refuses a test faces disciplinary action, ranging from 5-day suspensions and fines to permanent bans.
Which Substances are Included in the NBA’s Banned Substances List?
So, what drugs do the NBA test for? This a not an easy question to answer as there are more than 250 items in the NBA Banned Substances List. And every year, the list can change depending on the ruling of the NBA and NBPA’s joint efforts. So, keeping up with the latest updates, therefore, can be a difficult exercise.
However, to make things a little easier to understand, we can categorize them into three general classifications – stimulants, performance-enhancers, and masking agents.
Performance Enhancers (PEDs)
Substances typically used to promote muscle growth and enhance athletic performance are called performance-enhancing drugs. These types of substances aim to give players an unfair advantage by making recovery periods faster, making muscle development easier, or improving muscle performance during game situations.
However, these may have negative side effects, including an increased risk of heart disease, liver damage, and aggression. Other side effects of excessive use of these types of PEDs are still under investigation, but the overwhelming evidence points to the fact that long-term use can be detrimental to a player’s health and wellness.
These drugs include:
Stimulants (Drugs of Abuse)
The high expectations of organizations and fans can drive players’ anxiety levels up. And this rise in stressors can contribute to their urge to use stimulants and other substances to help them cope.
However, some of the substances are illegal and may have side effects detrimental to his health and personal life.
The most common stimulants include:
- Marijuana (including synthetic cannabinoids)* rescinded as of April 2023
Masking agents are substances used to reduce or eliminate the presence of banned performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in an athlete’s urine sample. They work by masking the use of PEDs during drug testing.
The most common masking agents banned in the NBA are:
- Plasma Extenders
How are NBA Players Selected for Drug Testing?
The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NBA and the NBAPA stipulates that players be selected for drug testing at random to ensure the program’s impartiality, which is in step with the league’s stance on anti-discrimination policy.
Random tests are also a proven deterrent as they prevent drug-using players from avoiding detection by timing their use around the testing schedule.
The NBA uses a complex computer algorithm to randomly select players for testing, which ensures a selection process that is free from bias and ensures the testing program’s integrity. However, the league also reserves the right to order the players to come in for testing if there is enough reason and evidence to believe that a certain player has used any of these banned substances.
All selection processes and test administration are done by a third-party provider to further insulate the league from any possible conflicts of interest.
How Often are NBA Players Subjected to Drug Testing?
The frequency of testing is also crucial to catching cheaters in the NBA. The CBA states that players can be tested up to 9 times each season using urine tests and blood sampling.
The league’s anti-drug policy states that players are subject to random urine testing at least four times during the NBA season. These types of tests are mostly aimed at detecting cocaine, MDMA, and other drugs of abuse.
However, each player is subject to up to two more random urine tests every off-season. This brings the total number of possible drug tests to six per player.
Random HGH Blood Testing
NBA players can be blood tested for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) up to two times each season and up to one time during each off-season. The testing is conducted randomly without any prior notice to the players.
The scheduling of testing and collection of blood samples is carried out by a third-party organization selected through a random player selection procedure. The NBA teams, players, and the Players Association are not involved in selecting the players to be tested or receiving prior notice of the testing schedule.
What Happened to NBA Players Who Tested for Drugs?
With a robust drug testing campaign, the NBA has identified a few players who have used HGH and other banned substances. These mostly resulted in multi-game suspensions and, in some cases, even 2-year bans.
There’s probably none more high-profile of an NBA player to be hit by the league’s anti-drug campaign in recent years than DeAndre Ayton. He’s a former first-overall pick and has become a key piece in Phoenix Suns’ lineup.
However, Ayton’s momentum had to come to a stop the following season as he tested positive for diuretics. The Suns organization expressed disappointment, while the big man expressed remorse.
He was suspended for 25 games without pay during the 2019-2020 season.
Another up-and-coming player that has been suspended for 25 games is John Collins. The promising power forward had a career year with 19 points and 9.8 rebounds in just over 30 minutes of playing time per game in just a year prior.
However, Collins’ development came to a halt as he tested positive for pralmorelin, a known PED, during the 2019-2020 season. He was suspended without pay for 25 games.
There was a time when O.J. Mayo was considered the future leader of the Memphis Grizzlies. So, when he was suspended for ten games after testing positive for PEDs in 2011, disappointment was the only thing on the minds of Grizzlies fans.
The 10-game suspension wasn’t the end of Mayo’s drug violations. The league hit him with a stiffer 2-year after testing positive again in 2016 on one of the random drug tests. Mayo’s career has since been on a downward spiral, and it’s hard to tell if he’s ever getting back into the league.
After winning the prestigious Rookie of the Year Award in 2010, Tyreke looked like he was on his way to a great career. However, after testing positive for drugs of abuse in 2019, he was banned for two years. He’s been reinstated since 2022, but it seems no NBA team is willing to gamble on him this time.
Chris Andersen was a crowd favorite, whatever team he played for, because of his style of play and energy on the court. So, fans were disappointed when he tested positive for prohibited substances in 2006.
He played for the New Orleans Hornets back then and was an important piece for a team with Chris Paul, who liked throwing lob passes inside to big men like Andersen, who can finish above the rim. Andersen was suspended for the rest of 2006-2007 and the following season, leaving the team lacking a true big man in the paint.
Fortunately, Andersen’s skillset and team-oriented style of play was appreciated enough by many NBA teams who still wanted him back when the ban was finished in 2008. He’s one of the few players who’ve made a triumphant comeback to the league after a long time away due to a ban. He even won a ring with the Miami Heat in 2013.
Wrapping Things Up: Are NBA Players Tested for Drugs?
The NBA greatly emphasizes fair play and ensures the league is as clean as possible. So, ensuring no one uses PEDs, stimulants, and masking agents has been on the NBA’s agenda every season.
The league and its players, therefore, have agreed to have players tested randomly during and after each season using state-of-the-art testing methods designed to detect a wide variety of substances, including PEDs, stimulants, and even some potential masking agents. This should help in ensuring that players are competing on a level playing field.
If caught using Prohibited Substances, players will face penalties ranging from 5-game suspensions to permanent bans. Players, therefore, need to treat the league’s anti-drug policy with as much seriousness as they do their on-court performance.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.