National Basketball Association
NBA says drug tests remain random, despite convenient timing after 71-point performances
National Basketball Association

NBA says drug tests remain random, despite convenient timing after 71-point performances

Updated Mar. 3, 2023 4:30 p.m. ET

Perhaps you've heard the latest NBA conspiracy theory, the one that claims the league is responding to stunning performances by its players by ordering drug tests immediately after. The eye-test, of course, posits that the timing of these tests is not as random as the term "random drug test" would suggest. The NBA insists it is mere coincidence, even after the latest example got people talking last week. 

Damian Lillard carved up the Houston Rockets on Sunday to the tune of 71 points, tied for the eighth-highest single-game total in NBA history. After the final buzzer, Lillard, giddy and jubilant, retreated to the Portland Trail Blazers’ locker room to celebrate the performance — only to find a medical attendant waiting for him. 

The reason? He’d been selected for a random drug test – something the 11th-year star said he had never been subjected to before his historic scoring explosion. 

"I was like, ‘Are y'all serious?’" Lillard told reporters later that night. "I did the urine test yesterday, and they backed it up with the blood draw tonight after the game, and it was actually the first time in my career being tested after a game. And then, aside from that, they know that I'm scared of needles."


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Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell had the same experience in January after also dropping 71 points in a single game. 

There are other examples of NBA players being tested after stunning performances. Corey Brewer, he of the career average of 8.7 points per game, somehow racked up 51 points in April 2014, one of the most improbable performances in NBA history. A few years later, Brewer told CBS Sports that he was drug-tested after the game. 

In 2020, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal told reporters that he was selected for a drug test after scoring 50 points the night before.

And in June 2021, then-Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams was tested the day after posting a picture of himself on Instagram highlighting the muscle he’d added during the offseason. (Sure, it's not a test following a huge scoring performance, but the timing at least felt to NBA-watchers a little more convenient than random.) 

Can these really all be coincidences? According to an NBA spokesperson reached by FOX Sports on Thursday, yes.

The league conducts hundreds of drug tests every season. Drug testing is part of the collective bargaining agreement, which is negotiated by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. It’s outlined in Section 6 of the CBA’s so-called "Anti-Drug Program," which states that a player "shall be required to undergo testing for Prohibited Substances at any time, without prior notice to the player, no more than four (4) times each Season and no more than two (2) times during each Off-Season." 

In their joint anti-drug program, the NBA and NBPA state that "the Program subjects each player to no more than nine random, unannounced drug tests during each season and off-season — up to six urine tests and three blood tests."

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As for when those tests are conducted and how the players selected are determined, the CBA states that players will be tested "according to a random player selection procedure by a third-party organization." The league, union, players and teams are blinded from that process. 

That third-party organization is a company called Drug Free Sport. (It referred all inquiries from FOX Sports to the NBA.) According to a league spokesperson, names for players to be tested are randomly generated by a computerized system the day before the test is conducted, but not passed along to local testers until the day of the test. So, in Lillard’s case, he had been scheduled for a test 24 hours before hitting the first of his 13 3-pointers en route to 71 points. 

The one gray area in all of this is a clause in the anti-drug program giving freedom to test players "based on reasonable cause at any time." But according to the NBA, no "reasonable cause" test has ever been conducted due to on-court performance.

Grant Williams, the Boston Celtics forward and first vice president for the NBPA, told FOX Sports on Monday that despite fan theories, it's not a big concern for players. As for drug tests following huge performances like Lillard's, he was similarly nonplussed. 

"It’s just a funny coincidence," Williams said.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports and the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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