Earl Watson and John Lucas take issue with Steve Kerr's medicinal pot revelations

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Earl Watson and John Lucas join in the discussion. (Getty Images)
Earl Watson and John Lucas join in the discussion. (Getty Images)

Steve Kerr last week admitted to using pot in an unsuccessful attempt to quell the back pain that has plagued him since he underwent two significant back surgeries. The operations, one of which caused a spinal fluid leak, forced Kerr to miss half of the 2015-16 season; as the Golden State Warriors coach was cripplingly averse to light, prone to blinding headaches and unceasing back pain.

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The experiment didn’t work, but that didn’t stop Kerr from musing aloud about the benefits of medicinal marijuana use, making the obvious connection to the NFL and the heaps of painkillers the league hands out to the players that, in Kerr’s words, “are basically involved in a car wreck every Sunday.”

In a follow-up interview with Tim Bontemps at the Washington Post, Kerr elaborated that he does “find it ironic had I said, ‘I’ve used Oxycontin for relief for my back pain,’ it would not have been a headline.”

Many readers, in a culture that has voted to legalize both medicinal and recreational marijuana in certain states for use as the individual sees fit, likely haughtily applauded at Kerr’s connection. Marijuana being the harmless, naturally-occurring remedy working in direct opposition to Oxy, that life-changing, cruelly addictive product of Big Pharma.

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Phoenix Suns rookie coach Earl Watson, however, wanted little part in the NBA’s league of coaches giving the rubber stamp to pot use on the whole, though, referring to the “slippery slope” that can sometimes lead one addiction to another, reminding us that not all of us have Steve Kerr’s background in place prior to experimenting: Well-heeled, professionally and personally successful, son of an academic, employment status hardly in question.

Former Houston Rockets player and current team player development coach John Lucas shares in Watson’s worry. As a former college standout and top overall NBA draft pick, Lucas saw a promising playing career fall to pieces as he struggled with alcohol and cocaine dependency. Lucas, who has acted as both an NBA head coach and personal player counselor, is not keen to pass marijuana off as a harmless substance.

From a talk with Calvin Watkins at ESPN:

“I never seen anybody tell me anything good that’s come from it,” Lucas said. “You go to the barber shop, you smell it on your hands — it’s the most addictive thing that is closest to nicotine that you can get.”

[…]

“The history of it is, medically [tetrahydrocannabinol] in marijuana helps the normal state,” Lucas said. “The problem is you don’t know how much to extract to have people to be functional, therefore, you can’t use it, because we can’t be able to pull what’s the right amount. The second part of it is, it hasn’t killed anybody, but it kills anybody who uses it, because it kills them emotionally, spiritually, and it will make you violate all your values. So, it kills you that way, but you don’t get killed from it.”

Lucas went on to try and define his objection to Kerr’s choice to attempt to mollify his back pain with pot, a drug that is recognized as legal for medicinal uses in the state of California where Kerr grew up and currently works within:

“It’s easy to tell if you have an addiction,” Lucas told ESPN. “If you can’t change your behavior to reach your goals, but you change your goals to meet your behavior, then it’s a real problem. So, Steve knew he had a back issue, and he changed his goal to do something illegal. See the violation? So, you run the risk of getting arrested. Well, you say, ‘I was worried about my back.’ Well, if I told you this was going to produce an intoxication, would you do it? No — there’s the answer.”

We’re not entirely sure if that is the answer, but while there is overwhelming evidence that reminds us that marijuana use does not typically act as a gateway drug (intent on leading its users down a more demanding path, toward stronger narcotics), this at least was the case for John Lucas.

Lucas came from a middle class upbringing, and was a two-sport star early in his life. Suns coach Earl Watson, however, did not have as easy a childhood, and he wonders if Kerr’s on-record thoughts are the best thing for the “kids” who might “think it’s cool” to read while facing down the unending pressure of what to put in their bodies prior to full physical and (assuming such a thing is possible) complete mental development.

Steve Kerr deals with the pain. (Getty Images)
Steve Kerr deals with the back pain. (Getty Images)

Steve Kerr, at age 51, has put the time in to consider things. Reverse the “5” and the “1,” though, and you get who Watson is worried about:

“And for me, I’ve lived in that other life [of crime and drugs]. I’m from that area, so I’ve seen a lot of guys go through that experience of using it and doing other things with that were both illegal. And a lot of those times, those guys never make it to the NBA, they never make it to college, and somehow it leads to something else, and they never make it past 18.

“So when we really talk about it and we open up that, I call it that slippery slope. We have to be very careful on the rhetoric and how we speak on it and how we express it and explain it to the youth.”

We need to give the youth in question a bit of respect, as each generation knows more about drugs (both legal and otherwise) and the ramifications than the generation before. Still, it is fair to wonder if admissions like Kerr’s would leave scads of would-be smokers sloughing pot use off as the drug version of just having a bite of whatever your date ordered for dessert. Something safe. An influence that would leave the user functional in most instances.

Compared to opiates, stimulants and excessive alcohol intake? Yes, pot use is probably akin to a surreptitious bite of someone else’s rice pudding. Still, we probably do need to be reminded that not every potential user will line up like Steve Kerr did – sparking up as a millionaire, 51-year old working out of a state that has made the product legal in two significant ways.

Pardon me. There was, apparently, no “sparking up.”

No wonder it didn’t “agree with” you, Steve. That’s an edible. It’s going to take a while to kick in. Once it does, though, you might want to leave that night’s coaching job to Mike Brown.

We shouldn’t get away from Earl Watson’s point, though, while at least considering John Lucas’ point. Lucas has woken up in enough gutters – this is not a figurative reference; read his book – to not deserve some closing arguments.

This isn’t to suggest that Steve Kerr tried marijuana for the first time in 2015 or 2016, but his ingestion was a long time coming. This is the guy that tore his ACL in college some three decades ago, prior to a lengthy NBA career with seasons that often stretched far into June. He waded through quite a bit and waited quite a lot out, before diving in.

Backs and knees hurt for high school players, too, and those players don’t have the same literal luxuries to work with as Kerr does.

Our prisons are sadly disproportionately populated by young men and women of color, unyielding casualties of the ongoing war on drugs. Marijuana is still illegal, in most quarters, and the penalties for its use are more strident for those who are too young to vote. For teenagers looking to identify with something bigger than themselves at a precocious (not that they’re aware of it) age, the application of the drug could be viewed as more of a lifestyle than as a needed, occasional, salve.

A salve, we should remind, that did not work for Steve Kerr (who was far from flippant in his discussions regarding pot). Your results may vary. And Earl Watson, in a follow-up interview on Tuesday, made a sound point in moving away from the idea that Kerr is out to replace the chicken in everyone’s pot with an edible:

“My response was the rhetoric and the education of marijuana use has to come from a physician, someone who studied it. It can’t really be from us, because all I know is the negative effects of marijuana growing up.”

Even if Watson may have overreached with his statistical guesswork:

“Growing up in the inner city, seeing a kid smoke it, seeing a kid sell it, always led to another level of drug use or drug distribution and for most of those kids, I would say around 90 to 95 percent, if not 98 percent of those kids, ended up incarcerated, ended up dead before the age of 18.”

There is no way in hell that 98 percent of the kids in Earl Watson’s past, the ones that smoked marijuana, went on to either selling, the harder stuff, and/or some form of incarceration. Much less death as a direct result of sliding down that slippery slope.

The slope may not exist, but the chasm between users does. Which is why every voice has to keep talking. With nuance and while utilizing their own experience, however un-relatable to the next voice.

The NBA might act as the great progressive bastion of pro sport, but it is probably one or two more collective bargaining agreements (past this upcoming one) away from making a significant shift toward, in the eyes of some, condoning marijuana use.

In the eyes of many, its relative inaction dating back decades under the otherwise-exacting tenure of former commissioner David Stern may already act as a pardoning of sort. If it worked for Robert Parish – the NBA’s all-time leaders in games played, beginning his career at the same age that five-year pro Anthony Davis is now – why can’t we just keep the penalties a notch or two below “harsh?”

That’s the unspoken doctrine. The rest of it? We need to keep talking.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!