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THE NBA : Few Answers to Questions on Tarpley

Roy Tarpley, the talented Dallas Maverick forward and two-time drug offender, missed a practice recently.

His whereabouts were unknown for 22 hours, during which time he also missed a Bible-study meeting and counseling session. Phone calls were not returned. Maverick officials reportedly scoured the city looking for Tarpley, with no luck.

When a repentant Tarpley, whose previous disappearing acts were preludes to drug-rehabilitation stays, returned, he said he inadvertently slept through practice.

He was not immediately given a urine test to detect possible drug use. Nor did he submit to a test the next day, or the day after that. In fact, according to one account, nearly four days passed before Tarpley was tested--and that was his standard, twice-weekly “random” test. Some tough drug policy, huh?

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Well, yes, NBA officials maintain. They say that their drug policy is an effective program that detects, then rehabilitates or weeds out, offenders. It still remains, they say, the most comprehensive and strict enforcement in professional sports.

But the Tarpley affair has cast doubt and attention on a policy that previously drew nothing but raves. There has been speculation in Dallas newspapers and around the league that if Tarpley was using cocaine, he probably had time to avoid detection, because cocaine is water soluble and usually leaves the system after a few days.

At the same time, the media and public have learned more about the drug rules agreed upon by the owners and players. And now, some of the people who said that the program was too strict are thinking that it may be too lenient.

Tarpley was able to bypass immediate testing because he missed only one practice. Gary Bettman, the NBA’s vice president and general counsel, said a player must miss two practices in a week--or one game or one airline fight--to warrant immediate testing.

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Because Tarpley missed only one practice and attended all other team functions during a weeklong probation period that ended last Friday, he was not subject to suspension. It is believed he took his regular “random” test either last Monday or Tuesday. Results are not announced, but because Tarpley is playing, it is assumed he tested negative for banned substances.

Bettman said the rule on missing two practices has always been part of the drug policy. He said, essentially, that players are given the benefit of the doubt once.

“I’d say it’s a common occurrence for players to miss practice,” Bettman said. “It happens all the time. Something unforeseen can happen. Everybody was so quick to say, ‘Well, you should have tested him right away.’ But if a player is going to go down (to drug use), he’s going down, whether it’s one day or four days. So, we’d know, believe me.”

Charles Grantham, executive director of the NBA players’ association, said the owners and management mutually agreed to mandatory testing only after missing two practices.

“We just decided that would be the fair way,” Grantham said.

Dr. M. David Lewis, director of the Van Nuys-based Adult Substance Abuse Program, which the NBA retains to help players in after-care, met with Tarpley in Dallas last Friday.

Lewis said, when asked if cocaine would still be detected in most urine tests four days after it was ingested: “Friday (Oct. 27, when Tarpley missed practice) to Monday (Oct. 30) is tough, because there’s a little bit of time. Friday to Sunday, I’d probably say no.”

Federal law forbids Lewis or any Maverick official from saying when Tarpley was tested or divulging its result.

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Lewis, whose corporation counsels drug addicts in business as well as sports, said that the NBA’s drug policy is stringent, not lenient.

“I don’t know whether I would or wouldn’t change the policy (regarding mandatory testing),” Lewis said. “With the exception of the attention from the tenacious press in Dallas, the program is working fine.

"(The agreement) was set up in 1983, before Len Bias died, before Don Rogers died, before any of the publicity going on now. Everything we do is governed by that. The agreement was basically put together with the thinking that you couldn’t just give a player a check so he could go out and kill himself.”

Bettman said that the flap over having to miss two practices or team functions before mandatory testing is merely old news brought to light in the Tarpley affair. “We tested Quintin (Dailey, during the Lakers’ training camp) only after he missed the (team) meeting and the practice,” Bettman said. “We don’t make exceptions with any player.”

Lewis said that the insinuation that Tarpley, one of the league’s young stars, received a break in an effort to beat the test not only is untrue but a narrow way of dealing with a serious addiction.

“If Roy were never to play basketball again, it wouldn’t make any difference to me,” Lewis said. “To me, it’s whether or not Roy gets to be 75 years old and has grandchildren and is free of drugs.”

The Mavericks, of course, want Tarpley to be clean and stay clean. A 7-foot power forward, he averaged 17.3 points and 11.5 rebounds last season before going to the Van Nuys rehabilitation center and missing 49 games. In the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Lakers, Tarpley scored 23 points and had 17 rebounds.

Still, the saga once again has been a distraction for the Mavericks, who hoped to put questions about Tarpley’s reliability behind them.

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Maverick players held a team meeting, during which Tarpley was harshly warned about his behavior.

“I realize what he goes through on a daily basis,” center James Donaldson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “But I really can’t show too much pity or feel sorry. He can’t be held by the hand 24 hours a day. You have to be responsible for yourself.”

The release of a journeyman center usually is only worth small type in the “Transactions” box. But when the Sacramento Kings waived 7-foot Jawann Oldham last week, it ended a strange and complicated situation involving Pervis Ellison, the club’s first-round pick, and Rod Thorn, the NBA operations chief.

The Kings were about to put Ellison, recovering from surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle, on the injured list, meaning that Oldham would make the 12-man roster. But Ellison said he wanted to be suited up and on the bench when the Kings play at Phoenix this Friday, the only time this season the club is scheduled to appear on national television, cable in this case.

Ellison persuaded Bill Russell, the vice president of basketball operations, to keep him off the injured list. So, the Kings announced that Oldham would be put on the injured list. Oldham was recovering from knee surgery last season had practiced and played during training camp.

“Do I look injured to you?” Oldham asked. “I’m not 100%, but I’m not ready to be mummified. They want to wrap me up like a mummy.”

Thorn heard about the Kings’ plans and admonished the club, saying they could not put Oldham on the injured list if he was not injured. To solve the problem, Oldham was waived.

Oldham’s reaction: “My career isn’t over yet, I can tell you that. Bill Russell is a very unusual person, and that’s all I can say at this point.”

Laker Coach Pat Riley said that, if Oldham clears waivers, the Lakers might be interested in signing him.

Rick Mahorn’s signing with Philadelphia gives the 76ers a formidable and intimidating starting front line with Mahorn, center Mike Gminski and forward Charles Barkley.

Barkley was ecstatic with Mahorn’s acquisition.

“It’s going to be great for me, because I can shoot more,” he said. “He’s not interested in shooting. He just wants to beat people up.”

Mahorn signed a three-season, $4.5-million contract. One season is guaranteed, one is partially guaranteed and the third is not guaranteed. There also are contingencies dealing with Mahorn’s chronic back problems.

NBA Notes

Larry Bird, back from bone spur surgery last season, had a productive first weekend. He scored 32 points and had eight rebounds in the Celtics’ opening-game victory last Friday, then scored 27 points, including the game-winning shot, in a victory over Chicago on Saturday. Said Bird: “I struggled a little, but the only way I’m going to get back in shape is to play.” . . . Add Celtics: After two games in his new sixth-man role, Kevin McHale is playing nearly as many minutes as he was as a starter and is as productive as always.

Greg Grant, a 5-foot 7-inch rookie free agent, has made the Phoenix Suns. Said diminutive Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons: “I like a player I can look in the eye.” . . . After Isiah Thomas and James Edwards were fined last week for separate fights during the exhibition season, apparently resurrecting the Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boy” image, Coach Chuck Daly tried to calm his team. He said the Pistons have to adopt “more of a Gandhi-like demeanor. We should turn the other cheek. We have to have cooler heads.” Thomas disagrees. “We didn’t win no championships by turning no cheeks,” he said.

After earning a spot on the Golden State Warriors, Marques Johnson told the San Francisco Chronicle about the doubts he had about his comeback from a serious neck injury three seasons ago. “I was in shape the last two years, but my lawyer would call and ask me if I was ready, and I’d say, ‘No, not yet,’ ” Johnson said. “Basically, I was afraid I’d come back and fail. I was afraid I’d come into a camp and not be able to play at a level I was used to playing. I was afraid of getting cut. The idea of failing, I felt that maybe that would send me over the edge. So, for two years, I ran from it. I didn’t want to confront it.”

Owner Gregg Lukenbill of the Sacramento Kings on the risky move of signing Pervis Ellison and Wayman Tisdale to lucrative long-term contracts after bitter off-season contract talks: “You know what the best thing is? I won’t have to speak to these agents for a long time.”


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