Minnesota Timberwolves phenom Karl-Anthony Towns studied kinesiology at the University of Kentucky, where he’s still working toward a degree despite being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2015 draft, and he wants to become a doctor after what he hopes will be a 20-year NBA career, but he already feels equipped to give commissioner Adam Silver some medical advice on marijuana.
“I agree with David Stern with marijuana,” Towns told ESPN’s Nick Friedell in a lengthy Q&A on the subject. “You don’t have to actually make it ‘Mary J’ [or] ‘Half Baked.’ You don’t have to do it like that, but you could use the [chemical] properties in it to make a lot of people better. That’s something that Adam Silver has to do.
“That’s out of my control, but maybe legalizing marijuana. Not fully legal where people are chimneys but using [marijuana] as a beneficial factor as an athlete, as a person living daily. I think a lot of times fans forget that sometimes there may be some things that are banned that may not be the greatest for playing basketball, but for everyday living off the court, sometimes those things that are legal could help us.”
Towns was working off comments Stern recently made to ex-player Al Harrington in a documentary titled “The Concept of Cannabis.” The former NBA commissioner stiffened the league’s marijuana policy in the late 1990s before reversing his stance in retirement. This is the crux of what Stern had to say:
“I think we’ve got to change the collective bargaining agreement, then, and let you do what’s legal in your state. If marijuana is now in the process of being legalized, I would think you should be allowed to do what’s legal in your state. So now it’s up to the sports leagues to anticipate where this is going, and maybe lead the way […] I think it’s a very interesting subject, and I think it’s a place where the leagues have an opportunity to do something, led by their players unions and the league offices.”
“I would say it’s something we will look at,” said Silver. “I’m very interested in the science when it comes to medical marijuana. My personal view is that it should be regulated in the same way that other medications are, if the plan is to use it for pain management. And it’s something that needs to be discussed with our Players Association, but to the extent that science demonstrates that there are effective uses for medical reasons, we’ll be open to it. Hopefully there’s not as much pain involved in our sport as some others, so there’s not as much need for it.”
Stern suggested that any progress on the matter would take considerable time and negotiation between the NBA and its players’ association, but a vocal leader might help speed the process along:
“I don’t think there’s been a proper spokesperson for this subject,” said Stern. “I think that if medical marijuana is available, then it’s up to the individual team doctor. You tell me it worked for you and it worked for others that you knew, then we should find a way to get that defined and made official, and then proceed to educating team docs.”
Towns may be that spokesperson. He was not advocating for the use of recreational marijuana, and he told Friedell that he’s never consumed cannabis or alcohol in his life. But the 21-year-old has seen first-hand the benefits of medical marijuana. He said he’s seen the positive effects it can have on people facing everything from arthritis to autism, including his girlfriend’s nephew, who helped helped him “realize those properties of marijuana can do a lot of good for kids and for adults.”
“I think it’s about keeping an open mind,” Towns told ESPN. “You have to understand what the use is for. Obviously recreational use, that’s something more of a personal hobby. But legalization of medical marijuana has helped millions of people’s lives. I know people who have had very bad arthritis and feel much better about daily movement, be able to be with their grandchildren to a better extent.
“There’s a difference between recreational and medicinal. A Vicodin or Percocet is very, very addicting. And it’s a drug, but used in the right context it can truly help people who are in a tremendous amount of pain. With the right moderation and reasoning for it, it’s very beneficial.”
From Harrington to Clifford Robinson, a number of ex-NBA players have entered the marijuana field in retirement, but Towns offered the highest-profile case of a current player arguing for its legalization in the league. Given that he is not perceived as someone who merely wants it available for his own personal use, Towns might be the perfect person to help steward Stern’s statements into real change.
“Karl, he’s got a lot of different interests,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau told Friedell of his franchise player’s comments. “And I think it says a lot about who he is as a person. I saw [the story] briefly this morning and just knowing Karl, he’s a thoughtful guy. I don’t know how much he’s studied the research, but in terms of helping people and people that are suffering, I know that that’s the type of person he is. He’s a very open-minded person, he’s got great curiosity in a lot of different things, very thoughtful. So it was his opinion, it was honest and I don’t have a problem with it.”
Neither would 75 to 80 percent of the NBA, if you believe former Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams.
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