The next frontier for sports' descent into the performance-enhancing drug scandal brewing in South Florida has always been this: Names of athletes in sports besides Major League Baseball showing up on client documents turned over by a disgruntled former employee of the clinic at the center of the storm.
The scandal deepened last week when MLB suspended Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, who was at the heart of baseball's probe into Biogenesis, the Coral Gables, Fla., anti-aging clinic. There was no turning back for baseball once Braun -- along with Alex Rodriguez and others -- had their names exposed in the clinic's documents in February of this year.
Now, Porter Fischer, the former clinic employee-turned-whistleblower, has told ESPN's Outside the Lines investigative show that Biogenesis documents contain the names of athletes in multiple sports, including the NBA, NCAA, boxing, tennis and mixed martial arts. Fisher did not reveal specific names of other athletes allegedly appearing in the documents, some of which were turned over to the Miami New Times last year. Fischer said the only sport he has heard from is MLB, which is conducting its own investigation into the use of PEDs.
What does this mean, specifically for the NBA, which has been blissfully spared any legitimate association with the widening PED problem that has rocked cycling, Olympic sports and baseball? Without a name or names, and without evidence or proof, it means little for the time being. Even in the short-attention-span theater of 2013, we should be above indicting an entire sport based on innuendo or inference.
"The NBA has been closely monitoring the Biogenesis case from the beginning and will continue to do so," a person with knowledge of the league's thinking told CBSSports.com on Friday. The person said league security operatives long ago established contact with those investigating Biogenesis to determine whether any of its players were tied to the clinic, and have received no indications of NBA involvement.
We should also be careful, however, about presuming that this means nothing, because I'll tell you exactly what it would mean if the name of a current -- or even former -- NBA player showed up in documents linking him to Biogenesis as a client: The NBA's days of letting other sports take the lead on HGH testing will be over.
As CBSSports.com reported Tuesday, the NBA and National Basketball Players Association are continuing their dialogue about how to implement blood testing for HGH as early as next season. The NBA is in the same place as the NHL on this issue; each sport has appointed a committee of experts to examine the issue and make recommendations on the scientific validity of blood tests to screen for HGH and how to implement them. The NBA's three-person committee is still working, NBPA interim executive director Ron Klempner said.
Commissioner David Stern once again lauded the league's anti-drug program last week in Las Vegas and suggested that efforts to reach an agreement with the union on HGH testing was being hindered by the NBPA's failure to elect a permanent replacement for ousted executive director Billy Hunter. Klempner denied this, telling CBSSports.com: "We're certainly capable of making decisions and doing whatever business needs to be done."
To this point, there has been no external pressure on the NBA or its players to push through the next frontier of combating PED use by rushing to an agreement on HGH testing before opening night. With the sensational and specious revelation of an unnamed player or players allegedly appearing in Biogenesis client documents, there still isn't any.
As with baseball, the NBA's role -- if any -- in the Biogenesis scandal won't begin until names are named and proof is presented. All we are left with now is suspicion and inference, and those aren't enough.
I would suggest the following, however. With Biogenesis under investigation for allegedly providing banned substances to baseball players, it never passed the smell test that athletes who hold a bat in their hands or brace their foot on the rubber were the clinic's only customers. Similarly, with such anti-aging clinics so widespread and loosely regulated, it never stood to reason that Biogenesis was the only place in the United States where such activities were happening.
In other words, it stands to reason that the Biogenesis net could be cast wider before this is over.
Just this week, in fact, it was revealed that the doctor who went on the New York City sports-talk airwaves to contradict the Yankees' diagnosis of Rodriguez's quad injury had been reprimanded in February by the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners. Orthopedist Michael Gross of Hackensack University Medical Center was reprimanded for "failing to adequately ensure proper patient treatment involving the prescribing of hormones including steroids," according to the New York Daily News.
The reprimand was related to the licensing of a medical professional who worked with Gross at a separate practice called the Active Center for Health and Wellness, the Daily News reported. Gross told SportsNet New York that the reprimand was a "closed matter" and that Rodriguez was not a patient at the center.
The point being, after the litany of PED fallout in baseball, cycling and other sports, it would be naive to presume that all of this ends with Braun and Rodriguez and baseball. There should be no accusations or convictions without evidence, nor should there be a moratorium on common sense.
The next shoe cannot and will not drop in the Biogenesis case unless and until more names are named and more sports are directly implicated. In the meantime, the NBA and its players association might want to get out in front of the HGH issue and start leading instead of following. When it comes to combating illegal drugs in sports, being fashionably late to the party does no one any good.