NEW YORK—The National Basketball Association is in custody today after law enforcement officials found the professional sports league to be in possession of more than 4,800 ounces of high-potency marijuana with a street value exceeding $2 million.
"We have had our suspicions about the association for years," said Thomas Harrigan, chief of operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, who aided local law enforcement in making the bust by supplying them with several hundred tips from fans, commentators, entertainers, known NBA associates, and even players. "The NBA's overall attitude, the company it kept, the iconography it favored—and perhaps most of all, the frequent and open admissions of marijuana use—indicated to us there was a high probability the league was in fact using marijuana."
Coordinated operations carried out in 27 major metropolitan areas resulted in the arrest of the 65-year-old professional sports league Thursday afternoon when officers, responding to reports of a "funny smell" coming from the NBA, decided the odor had a high probability of being drug-related. Upon gaining access to the NBA's residences, vehicles, and places of business, and subsequently asking the association to empty its pockets, officers found substances that turned out, upon inspection, to be various forms of cannabis.
In addition, police seized several hundred water pipes and high-temperature vaporizers, several large grow lights or complicated grow-light arrays, a number of hydroponic farming setups, and dozens of mature and carefully tended marijuana plants.
Legal experts said the incident is potentially the most embarrassing arrest of a sports league in U.S. history, far worse than the NFL's 1993 arrest for domestic battery, college lacrosse's 2009 arrest for attempting to purchase 400 doses of Rohypnol from an undercover police officer, or Major League Baseball's nine DUIs.
"We're really not exactly sure of the extent of the NBA's involvement with pot, but we know they're habitual users," Harrigan said in a press conference this morning. "We should note that the association itself did not appear to be under the influence of marijuana when we confronted it. Commissioner [David] Stern was extremely forthcoming with us, and of course the conference finals have been as competitive and hard-fought as you could ask for. But the fact remains: The signs of regular marijuana use are just all over that league."
Arresting officers do not believe the NBA poses a flight risk, and it is expected to be released this afternoon upon posting a $54 million bond. Commissioner Stern, who was not involved in the arrest, announced the playoffs will continue as scheduled, but said he will consider handing down stiff suspensions in the offseason, particularly if the league fails proposed regular drug tests.
"The NBA cannot afford to be seen as tacitly condoning marijuana use, especially after taking such great pains to rid ourselves of the stigma of arrogant, sexually insatiable millionaires," Stern said. "We owe it to our fans to be better than that. I can only imagine the kind of crowds we'd attract if the National Basketball Association became synonymous with pot."
If convicted of all 1,346 charges, the NBA would face, at the very least, a jail term of up to six months and a fine of up to $150,000, and it would likely have its driver's license suspended for a year. In addition, the league may be required to attend a drug education class, the cost of which would be paid for by garnishing its wages.