When the¬†Chicago Bulls drafted Eddy Curry in 2001, the team knew his career would be a referendum on the wisdom of asking a player to jump directly from high school to the pros. That debate is moot--teams can no longer draft high schoolers--and Curry, 22, is now an ex-Bull. On Monday he was traded to the Knicks after a standoff over a much larger issue, one with possible repercussions beyond the NBA.
Last month the Bulls offered the 6'11" restricted free-agent center a long-term contract, with one unprecedented condition. Chicago G.M. John Paxson said the deal was contingent on Curry's taking a DNA test to gauge his genetic susceptibility to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the potentially fatal heart condition that caused the on-court deaths of the Celtics' Reggie Lewis in 1993 and Loyola-Marymount star Hank Gathers in '90.
The team was concerned because Curry's 2004-05 season ended in March, when he experienced an irregular heartbeat before a game. Doctors couldn't determine the cause, but Curry, who hasn't suffered any episodes since and refused the Bulls' demand, has been cleared to play by two cardiologists. His lawyer, Alan Milstein, argues that DNA screening would only measure whether Curry is at risk, not guarantee that he will or won't suffer cardiac trouble.
Milstein also says forced DNA screening would violate Curry's privacy rights. He's not alone. "I think it would be wise for Eddy to take this test, it might reveal information he'd want to know," says Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethics professor. "But having his boss make him do it sets a precedent I don't want to see in any workplace." As scientists crack the genetic code, handing a player's DNA data to a team could be tantamount to turning over a medical crystal ball--and teams may base personnel decisions on hypothetical problems. Doctors can already gauge genetic risk for Huntington's disease, hemophilia and schizophrenia; tests for prostate cancer, arthritis and depression aren't far off.
Monday's sign-and-trade, which sent Curry to New York, could put the issue to rest for now, because the Knicks aren't expected to demand a DNA test. But the main issue is left unresolved. "This is a brave new world," Milstein says. "There's a real danger if employers have this kind of information."