- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Damon Stoudamire has decided not to be a couple of tokes over the line, no small development for someone who has contributed mightily to the penal colony-like atmosphere of the Trail Blazers.

In a pique of surprising honor last October, Stoudamire made an agreement with Portland Oregonian columnist John Canzano to submit to a random drug test.

“I did it because I have nothing to hide,” Stoudamire said, all too accustomed to hiding his contraband, though sometimes not well.

It was Canzano’s day to call. He called last Friday. It is time, friend.

With coach Maurice Cheeks monitoring the process from an open door, Stoudamire relieved himself in a cup, the contents of which tested clean.

The good news comes with a qualifier, predictably enough.

Stoudamire’s decision goes against the fine-print victories of the suits with the NBA Players Association. Everything is negotiable to the suits, even a player’s waste matter.

There is an all-knowing quality about them. They know what is best for Stoudamire, a 30-year-old player with a history of never leaving home without the cannabis plant.

His devotion to that principle led to his arrest at Tucson International Airport last year. It was his third arrest in 18 months, a startling pace even by the permissive standards of the Trail Blazers. It was the mechanism that pushed Stoudamire to go straight with doubt all around him.

The doubt was understandable, as Stoudamire could see with an ever-clearing head. It was the sort of doubt that columnists are predisposed to dump on the doorsteps of the public.

So a pact was struck, the word of two, with the columnist holding the last word.

Stoudamire, to his credit, stuck to both his word and his vow to stay clean.

He did so in a climate of labor-management anxiety regarding drug testing. It is the inclination of the union to use drug testing as one of its bargaining chips with management. In a lawyer-free world, the relative health of a player would not be an item tossed back and forth on a negotiating table.

Both labor and management, as baseball is discovering, should have a common interest in preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of its cash cows. There really should be nothing to discuss.

If Stoudamire felt compelled to undergo a drug test outside the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement, he should be applauded for having the courage of his convictions instead of being held aloft as one who crossed an imaginary picket line.

Yet that is the thinking of union leaders. They have their way of doing things. They know what is best. They must keep their members in place.

A union spokesman said: “We have a system in place with procedures and safeguards that should be adhered and followed.”

The union is missing the fundamental essence of Stoudamire’s act.

He is trying to beat something fairly serious, the depth of which is unknown. If an agreement with a columnist increases his motivation and serves as a conduit to the disappointed basketball public of Portland, the good beats the union’s technicality in a rout.

The number of NBA players who have a deep relationship with the hemp plant is said to be astoundingly high, depending on which ex-NBA player or investigative reporter is doing the calculating.

Rasheed Wallace, to name one of Stoudamire’s ex-teammates, has earned the nickname Rashweed because of his dedication to be at one with the brain dead.

Stoudamire is waiting to see what action, besides a stern talk, will be made against him by the union.

“I hope [the union leaders] understand I wasn’t trying to put a division between me and the players association,” he said. “It did it because I had to do it for me.”

That is the talk of a person with self-preservation in mind, as opposed to the talk of a suit skilled in the art of negotiating.

One side surrenders this, the other side surrenders that, and, meanwhile, a player is in the free-fall mode, struggling to pull the string to his parachute before it is too late.

For a franchise accustomed to police reports, Stoudamire’s highly public action is encouraging, a cleansing of sorts on the road to recovery.

A cheer is in order, not a jeer.

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