Marijuana Use in the NBA


Published: 06/01/2017

by Doug Mackar


Steve Kerr

This past December, Golden State Warriors head coach (and reigning NBA Coach of the Year) Steve Kerr, told Monte Poole, host of The Warriors Insider Podcast, that he had tried marijuana in hopes of relieving his chronic back pain.

“I guess maybe I could even get in some trouble for this,” Kerr said, “but I’ve actually tried [marijuana] twice during the last year and a half when I’ve been going through this pain, this chronic pain that I’ve been dealing with.”

Kerr, 51, missed a large portion of last season due to complications resulting from multiple back surgeries.

“First, I’m disappointed it didn’t work,” Kerr admitted. “I really wanted some relief and I didn’t get it. Having done the research it was well worth a try… because I’m searching for answers on pain. But I’ve tried painkillers and drugs of other kinds, as well, and those have been worse. It’s tricky.”

The main issue that Kerr raises is proper pain management, and the dangers of legal drugs in comparison to marijuana, which although is legal in a vast majority of states for medicinal purposes (and a growing number of states for recreational use), is outlawed by the NBA. Kerr’s goal is to find the most effective and safest means of dealing with his own chronic pain, something that he understands professional athletes face on a daily basis, whether that be while playing or after retirement.

“I’m always struck every time I’m home on the couch watching a sporting event, some drug commercial comes on, they show these happy people jumping in a lake, rowing a boat, then you just wait for the qualifier. Side effects include suicidal thoughts and possible death. And you’re like, this is insane. Insane.”

“You can see it with our country, our country is starting to wisen up on the medicinal marijuana side. I hope we can wisen up on the prescription drug side. That’s scary stuff and it’s really not talked about often enough.”

Kerr understands the issue of pain management, not only because of his recent personal experiences with pain and his position as head coach of an NBA franchise, but also because he was a professional athlete himself. According to Wikipedia: Kerr is a six-time NBA champion, winning three with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs as a player, and one with the Warriors as a head coach. Kerr has the highest career three-point percentage (45.4%) for any player with at least 250 three pointers made in NBA history.

In a press conference the day after the podcast aired, Kerr answered questions regarding his marijuana use, and tried to steer the conversation back to the issue of pain management in professional sports.

“The context of our conversation and my response to your question was about how professional sports should handle pain relief for players,” he said. “Because of the way the world works, the way the media works now, what is a very serious conversation about pain relief turns into the headline, ‘Kerr smokes pot.’ So, I guess that’s the world we live in. That’s fine. But I’m actually kind of glad it became an issue because I think it’s a very important issue to talk about. Having gone through a tough spell over the last year with my own recovery from back surgery, and a lot of pain, chronic pain, I had to do a lot of research. You get handed prescriptions for Vicodin, Oxycontin, Percocet, NFL players, that’s what they’re given. The stuff is awful. The stuff is dangerous. The addiction possibility, what it can lead to, the long term health risks. The issue that’s really important is how do we do what’s best for the players.”

Kerr used the NFL as an example to further illustrate his point.

“If you’re an NFL player, in particular, and you got lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet, athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s Vitamin C, like it’s no big deal. And there’s like this perception in our country that over-the-counter drugs are fine but pot is bad. Now, I think that’s changing.”

“But I understand that it’s a perception issue around the country and the NFL, NBA, it’s a business, so you don’t want your customers thinking, `These guys are a bunch of potheads.’ That’s what it is. But to me it’s only a matter of time before medicinal marijuana is allowed in sports leagues because the education will overwhelm the perception.”

Golden State Warriors forward David West commented on Kerr’s remarks, supporting him opening a dialogue on a subject that had previously not been a part of the pain relief conversation.

“He’s a public figure with some notoriety making a statement,” West said. “It brings more attention to a cause for something that people feel like there needs to be a shift in the way we monitor it and change things. Obviously somebody of his stature can give a little weight to the argument.”