Being a professional athlete can be a nerve-wracking thing. To calm down, some players pray before games. Others might eat a certain meal. Perhaps they’ll turn to to a loved one for a pep talk. Or maybe they’ll smoke marijuana. According to Chauncey Billups, some NBA players regularly did just that, and he was totally cool with it.
Related: Is NBA coach Steve Kerr the new medical pot warrior?
“I honestly played with players – I’m not going to name names; of course I’m not — I wanted them to smoke,” the five-time NBA all-star and current ESPN commentator said Friday night. “They played better like that. Big-time anxiety, a lot of things can be affected — (marijuana) brought ’em down a bit. It helped them focus in a little bit on the game plan. I needed them to do that. I would rather them do that than, sometimes, drink.”
The topic came up in conjunction with a conversation about recent comments made by Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr and New York Knicks President Phil Jackson, who both admitted to using the drug while recovering from back surgery.
Right now, using marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, is strictly prohibited by the NBA. First-time offenders must complete a treatment program, second-time offenders are fined $25,000, third-time offenders are suspended five games and any subsequent violations entail a 10-game suspension or more.
On Friday, Billups said league executives and players need to address the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes because “there’s a lot of science behind it.”
Research and anecdotal evidence alike have shown that marijuana can help manage a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and even nausea and appetite issues connected to cancer and HIV-positive patients. But because of marijuana’s classification as a “Schedule I” drug, the strictest of the government’s five classifications, the studies aren’t nearly as robust as those for other pain medications that can be prescribed legally by a doctor in all 50 states.
That may change, however, as the drug becomes less stigmatized in the eyes of the law. Marijuana is now legal either for recreational use or for medical purposes in 26 states plus the District of Columbia.
“Obviously, you’re always going to be able to regulate things. Alcohol’s legal, but you can’t do it while you’re driving,” Billups said. “When you’re talking about protecting your investment, protecting these players, medicinal marijuana, if that’s something that can help out with your franchise, with your organization, with your players, [then] that’s something, that’s a discussion that needs to happen.”