Jalen Harris ban reveals NBA's uneven standards for accountability

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 13: Jalen Harris #2 of the Toronto Raptors drives to the basket during the game against the Chicago Bulls on May 13, 2021 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)

Over the course of the last several days, we’ve been bombarded with salacious stories of investigations, assaults and broken policies in the sports world.

It’s hard to keep track of it all.

Between the instances of alleged assault and drug infractions across multiple associations, it’s as if all eyes are on the decisions of league brass everywhere. The suits hold the power. They dictate how the CBA is applied, which infringements are penalized, and which are swept under the rug.

With the news of Toronto Raptors rookie Jalen Harris receiving a one-year ban for violating the league's anti-drug program, the inconsistent discipline enforced against NBA players and coaches has come into question. The recent hirings of Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd, considering the allegations of abuse against women in both their pasts, have made Harris’s suspension and the various other punishments permeating platforms like the Olympics look punitively harsh.

The banning of performance enhancing drugs is comparatively understandable. Drugs that improve performance in competitive sports can skew the achievements of the components we value. The possibilities of human capability and naturally attributed skill is a standard many still hold dear. But what about the substances that fall outside of these parameters? Why punish the users of substances administered recreationally? Or even the ones used to soothe the disease of addiction?

Besides archaic notions of respectability and blame, it’s not quite clear who these policies of prohibition benefit. Punishment beyond counselling and a rehab-focused suspension can read as cruel.

Whether the NBA likes it or not, the hiring of two coaches with skeleton-stuffed closets coinciding with the rookie’s ban is a difficult decision to ignore. The ruling on Harris came with reports from reputable sources that divulged details of his breach of contract, which was in stark contrast to the introductory press conference the Portland Trail Blazers held for Billups.

Chauncey Billups (left) and Jason Kidd (right) were hired as the head coaches of the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Following tweets from multiple Blazers congratulating the new hire, Billups appeared next to president Neil Olshey to answer questions about his questionable past and equally questionable future on the team.

In a show of support burdened by a lack of transparency, Olshey deflected questions about the 1997 accusations by taking a nervous swig of water and asking to move on to the next question.

"That's proprietary, Sean,” Olshey said in response to Bleacher Report contributor Sean Highkin’s request for details on the background check that led to Portland plucking Billups from their pool of 20 candidates. “You're just going to have to take our word that we hired an experienced firm that led us to the results we already discussed."

The bureaucratic request for patience, trust and even understanding afforded to accused perpetrators of violence against women doesn’t seem to extend to instances of substance use and abuse. There aren’t the same contextual investigations featuring “former FBI officers” as with the Blazers, nor the same press conferences featuring organizational higher-ups. All we get is a Shams post and follow-up confirmation from beat journalists.

Whether we see a re-write in the approach to drug usage and domestic violence or not, the PR disaster that followed the Kidd and Billups hires, and the disagreement Harris’s suspension yielded may signal a change in the conduct NBA fans can digest. But to the detriment of Harris, the representation the league chooses to showcase is purposeful and disappointing.

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