Victor Conte Back In The News


Victor Conte strolls across the lobby, hand extended, eyes squinting from below a hairline deep into its winter of discontent and above a mustache borrowed from Howard Hughes. He wears a sleek sport coat and a Cheshire grin that only Harold Hill’s mother could love. He comes bearing gifts — a bright yellow bag stuffed with bright blue shirts emblazoned with the bright white suspension bridge logo of the now-defunct Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. BALCO, for short. An acronym as infamous as KGB, IRS and DDT, a name synonymous with the biggest steroid scandal in the history of sports, give or take a couple dozen East German female swimmers sporting curiously copious cheek stubble and testosterone levels to shame a saber-toothed tiger.

Anyway, the shirts. The shirts are thick and cotton and soft to the touch. There are some with sleeves and some without, and beneath the suspension bridge are the letters G-E-A-R. Gear, as in a clothing line, and gear, as in a street nickname for steroids. Both designer, of course. Conte is quick to point this out, quicker still to grin. I like him already.

We’re sitting in the lounge of a Manhattan luxury hotel, nursing cocktails, and between sips Conte tells me — with a dollop of outrage and two pinches of pride — he has been unfairly likened to both Al Capone and Adolph Hitler. (For the record: Der Steroid Fuhrer drinks Pina Coladas). The shirts are his idea. Well, mostly. In October 2006, just six months removed from a four-month stay in a federal prison camp, Conte paid a visit to the Olympia Weekend in Las Vegas — a four-day tournament-cum-jamboree for the engorged of pectoral and shrunken of testicle, America’s most anabolic, perhaps the only place on the planet where Conte’s role as BALCO ringleader gives him performance-enhanced credibility. Probation papers in pocket, Conte walked the main hall, worked the crowd, had more than a dozen people ask him to autograph their T-shirts. Not just any shirts. Knockoff BALCO shirts, the original bridge pillars replaced by giant syringes.


Conte couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe the shirts were going for $30 a pop. He spoke to a lawyer, surfed the Web, found out shirts were only the beginning. There were coffee mugs and baseball jerseys, baby bibs and barbecue aprons, some 10 different companies hawking 25 different BALCO-themed tchotchkes. Oh, and thongs. Somebody was selling those, too, with big block letters stenciled across the front — really, where else would they go? — “the cream” and “the clear” joining black lace and Bart Simpson as suitable fodder for cultural pelvic enshrinement. Facing the deeply discouraging prospect of someone else squeezing a buck out of his hard-earned notoriety, Conte did what he always does: saw an opportunity — or, as he likes to say in a phrase that’s two parts Dale Carnegie and one part Successories poster, “the seed of equivalent benefit.” Now Conte’s peddling shirts of his own, the same ones he’s showing me, for the low, low price of $24.95. They’re available on his Web site, also home to his (perfectly legal) line of nutritional supplements, a site that still lists Barry Bonds and Marion Jones as affiliated athletes, shining examples of what Conte’s (perfectly legal and otherwise) chemical concoctions can do for the rest of us.

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