Al Harrington – 16 Years in the NBA
“Boy, I ain’t smoking no marijuana, you better get outta my face!” Al’s voice booms across the grow room, mimicking his grandmother’s reaction when he first told her about medical marijuana. His massive stature seems out of place in such tight quarters, but walking through the towering colas and shady leaves Al sports a grin ear to ear. This wasn’t his first grow tour, and definitely not his first time around cannabis plants. But before Al became a successful cannabis entrepreneur, he played 16 years in the NBA. Yeah, I’m talking about Al Harrington.
Most recently you’ve probably seen Al’s face all over ESPN and Fox Sports. Ice Cube’s new 3-on-3 league, BIG3, saw Al as co-captain of Trilogy and playing alongside former stars Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin, Larry Hughes and Stephen Jackson—just to name a few. Seeing Al play leaves you wondering why he ever left the league, but as he remarks, “One game a week [with BIG3] is perfect, it’s like the NFL!” At 37 years old, playing again only makes sense. His transition from professional athlete to entrepreneur began with a start in real estate, but it was a little family inspiration that led to his venture in cannabis.
Which leads us back to his grandmother. When he suggested she try cannabis, she wasn’t too happy about it. While playing for the Nuggets in 2010, amidst Colorado’s medical and soon-to-be recreational market, Al was inundated with news about the benefits of cannabis. Viola, his beloved grandmother, had suffered from glaucoma for years; it only made sense—at least, to Al—to talk to her about it, despite never having consumed cannabis himself, even for his own medical ailments. Viola acquiesced, however, and became a believer after being able to read her Bible for the first time in three years, exclaiming, “I’m healed!” Seeing Viola’s eyes opened to the powers of cannabis inspired Al to find a safe ‘in’ to the market.
“In 2014,” Al explains, “obviously things went recreational, so they kinda killed the caregiver model [in Colorado] . . . my cousin Dan had to actually decide, did he want to be a [cannabis] company?” Al’s cousin wasn’t just asking his superstar family member for money, however: “We sat down and came up with a business plan that was actually good enough that I was willing to invest, so I invested in him,” Al smiles. “It’s been a great experience.”
The aptly named Viola Extracts, which specializes in shatter, wax and crumble concentrates, has now taken off—an incredible feat, considering he had only recently begun to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. He’s come a long way from his East Coast roots.
Al grew up in Orange, New Jersey, with a lineage of family from the South. As politics have shown, neither the South nor the East Coast is particularly friendly towards cannabis, least of all cannabis use within the Black community. Statistically, the Black community has been specifically targeted by law enforcement, with wildly disproportionate cannabis-related arrest numbers as compared to white offenders. Al chose to stick to what he knew: basketball. “I just think about how many friends and people I know that have felonies on their record for marijuana possession . . . and it affects their lives forever. They cannot get a job at McDonalds, almost,” laments Al.
“A [statistic], I believe from 2010, [found that] 52% of all drug related arrests [were] marijuana related,” he continues, “and now there’s an industry where people can potentially make billions of dollars. I think that’s just something that needs to be fixed.” He’s now playing an active hand in changing that status quo. Viola Extracts explicitly seeks to hire non-violent victims of the war on drugs, and provides tools to employees to help expunge their criminal records.
Throw Out The Pharmaceuticals in Favor of Cannabis
It might seem a little surprising, but “even though I knew [cannabis] helped my grandmother, I didn’t know it was gonna help me after my knee surgery,” Al admits. He endured 14 surgeries throughout his professional career, and he quickly fell in love with CBD as a treatment option after a friend and business partner convinced him to try a few different CBD products. “Ever since then,” shares Al, “I’ve never used a Vicodin, an anti-inflammatory—I haven’t used anything. I’ve been straight cannabis.”
Al is only now coming to realize how truly normalized cannabis has become, especially in recent years. “Once I say ‘cannabis,’ it’s like all the attention comes to me. They’re like, ‘Oh my god, I think it’s the greatest investment,’ ‘How do I get involved?’ . . . ‘I’ve been smoking since I was twelve’ and ‘I’ve been …’” He trails off, smirking. “These are some of the nerdiest looking parents or people you’ll ever see. Once I started talking about it, I realized it was so accepted,” he laughs.
This is the normalization we’ve fought so hard for. From parents at kids’ birthday parties to the halls of Congress, everyone is talking about cannabis. We’re all aware of the difficulties across our nation, and Al is another voice—albeit a big one—saying it’s time for change. The fight is not yet won, and we need more advocates like Al. “I sometimes feel like those people are just made up,” Al notes when discussing anti-cannabis crusaders, “because I never run into that type of opposition when I talk about this industry and this plant.” With more voices like Al’s, we’re guaranteed to inch closer to federal legalization every day.
A special thanks to Abe Givins of Starpower Sports Marketing and Entertainment for making this article possible.
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