Lack of marijuana test could be costly


January 25, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

It was one day after Chris Webber's arrest on nine charges, including possession of marijuana, and his teammate, Harvey Grant, was asked about the league's current collective bargaining agreement, which excludes marijuana as a drug that players can be tested for.

"As a union, we're going to stand firmly in what we believe in," Grant said. "And if we believe in not testing, we'll stand by it. And if we feel we need to test for marijuana, we'll go ahead. We as a union will stand firm on whatever we decide to."

Pressed further on why the players would oppose testing for marijuana, Grant said: "To tell you the truth, I don't know. I don't have an answer. I don't advocate the use of marijuana. But I don't know."

That seems to be the consensus among players when asked about the exclusion of marijuana testing. So if they don't know why the union has adopted that stance, why exclude the testing of marijuana?

That's a question players union representative Bill Hunter will likely have to address this summer, when the league is likely to reopen talks on the Collective Bargaining Agreement in July.

In the 1970s, the perception of rampant drug use nearly killed the league, as some championship games were aired late at night on tape delay. Times are different, with the league enjoying tremendous financial success with the signing of a $2.64 billion television deal last year. Superstar players are demanding -- and getting -- $100 million contracts.

But if the public backlash over the airwaves last week over Webber's arrest is any indication, fans are getting more turned off by the actions of today's players. As the league approaches life after Michael Jordan, the last thing it needs is an issue that gives fans another excuse not to shell out outrageous sums for tickets to a basketball game.

Fixing this problem is simple: If the union can't come up with a good enough reason -- and it won't -- include testing for marijuana in the next bargaining agreement.

Nelson gets his shot in

When Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson heard of Webber's arrest, he got in a few digs at the player with whom he clashed during the 1993-94 season at Golden State.

"From Day One, Chris didn't respect authority," Nelson told Dallas reporters. "He was the No. 1 pick, and he felt everyone should treat him like it, regardless.

"You don't have to like the coach, but you have to respect the uniform. You don't have to like the cop, but you've got to respect the uniform," Nelson added. "Chris just doesn't. He measures people's success by their checkbooks. It's sad."

Timberwolves on roll

They made the playoffs last year but, going into this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves had never been more than two games over .500 and had never had a winning streak more than four games.

And although the Timberwolves had their seven-game winning streak ended at Toronto, they are still six games over .500 (23-17). The Timberwolves have won 12 of their past 15, and their impressive play is no fluke considering some of their recent victories over Seattle, Houston, Chicago, New Jersey and Portland.

"Everybody is getting the idea of how to play at the level we need to play," said Minnesota forward Tom Gugliotta.

The improvement will make for an interesting off-season. Gugliotta, the team's best player, becomes a free agent, and it may take $14 million a year to keep him.

Second-year guard Stephon Marbury can sign an extension next off-season, and might be looking for a deal similar to the seven-year, $126 million deal that Kevin Garnett signed last summer.

If the Timberwolves sign Gugliotta and Marbury, they face the prospect of paying more than $300 million to three players. If the team decides to play hardball and either player decides to bolt (Marbury can leave after the 1998-99 season), Minnesota might wind up resembling its expansion days.

O'Neal vs. Mourning

Each time Shaquille O'Neal faces Alonzo Mourning, he plays down questions about the rivalry between the two. And each time -- especially after he wins -- O'Neal gets in a few verbal shots at Mourning.

O'Neal had 24 points and 14 rebounds to Mourning's five points and four rebounds in the Jan. 17 win by the Los Angeles Lakers. The two have met 12 times, with O'Neal's team winning nine games. O'Neal has a huge edge statistically in points (32.1-21.8), rebounds (13.3-9.3), blocks (3.17-2.42) and shooting percentage (57.4-44.1).

Asked whether the sore knee he developed occurred when he bumped knees with Mourning, O'Neal said: "Not Zo. Zo quit."

O'Neal said later: "They say Alonzo is the Beast of the East. If he's the Beast of the East, I'm the Great Test of the Best of the West. I was the Beast of the East. Then I left."

Around the league

Antoine Walker demonstrated true All-Star form against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 7 when he scored a career-high 49 points. So, what has he done since then?

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