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Finding a career after the NBA can be a tough task.
Al Harrington — near the end of his 16-year basketball career — tried for quite some time to find his next venture. He tried restaurants. He tried hotels. Nothing was working.
Finally, he found something that worked: Marijuana.
Harrington, who was drafted by the Indiana Pacers straight out of high school in 1988, invested $5 million in a cannabis company with his cousin in 2011. Initially, he did it in his cousin’s name to hide it from the NBA.
Now, after the company went “mainstream” in California and connected with one of the major distributors in the state, the company is preparing to raise funding at a $100 million valuation, according to the Indianapolis Star.
That’s one incredible investment.
Getting grandma on board first
Harrington insists he never smoked growing up. Marijuana was illegal recreationally throughout the United States, so he never touched it.
While he was playing for the Denver Nuggets, which he did from 2010-2012, his grandma, Viola, came to visit. The first thing Viola, who lived in North Carolina, did when she got to his house was pull out all of her daily medicines. She was suffering from diabetes, glaucoma and was frequently in pain.
Harrington, as most Coloradans are, was aware that medical marijuana was legal in the state, and had been for quite some time. He also knew of the benefits it brought for patients. So, he decided to ask his grandma to try it.
“Boy! I ain’t smoking no reefer!” Viola told him the first time, via the Indianapolis Star.
He tried again the next day, but this time had the marijuana with him. He left it on the counter and went to his room. When he came out later, Viola was crying tears of joy while reading her bible.
“I’m healed,” she said, via the Indianapolis Star.
‘Viola’ took off
Seven years after founding the company with the $5 million, Harrington is preparing to raise funding at a $100 million valuation.
He now has more than 70 employees across California, Oregon, Colorado and Michigan — all of which currently allow recreational marijuana use.
Harrington was there from the beginning, too, and actually planted the company’s first 16 marijuana plants on a farm in Oregon.
“You’ve got to educate yourself (and) know the job you’re asking someone else to do,” he told the Indianapolis Star. “From that perspective, literally I go to every state, attend most meetings, I’m very active. There are times I’m gone from home for a month, which is very tough with a wife and kids, but at the end of the day I’ve got that support.”
Harrington’s goal for the company is to hit a $1 billion valuation, meaning that’s what Viola would be worth if he were to sell it. Hitting that mark, he said, is absolutely an “attainable goal.”
Even though his goal is money-based, however, he said that’s not why he’s in this business.
“Money will come and go, but I’m more focused on service and products and patients,” Harrington told the Indianapolis Star. “If we take care of them, the money will be there. I get more joy from someone calling or hitting me on Twitter or Instagram. ‘My mom tried your product and this happened,’ or, ‘My grandmother tried cannabis for first time and this is the best she’s felt in years!’
“I get way more joy from that than from looking at a bank account.”
Convincing David Stern, and marijuana’s future in sports
David Stern was the commissioner of the NBA from 1984-2014.
Throughout that time, and still to this day, marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) is on the sports’ banned substance list. It’s that way for the NFL and Major League Baseball, too.
Marijuana, though, is now legal medicinally in 33 states and recreationally in 10. More and more Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug in some form than ever before, too.
After years of fighting against the drug, Stern finally changed his view in 2017 and said that marijuana should be removed from the banned substances list.
“I think that pretty smart people don’t know what’s right and what’s not right,” Stern said in 2017. “But I think there’s universal agreement that marijuana for medical purposes should be completely legal.”
That conversation, Harrington said, validated everything for him.
“It just let me know that what I’m trying to do is right, and I’m going in the right direction,” Harrington told the Indianapolis Star. “I looked at it as a stamp of approval, not just for me but the industry.”
Harrington played in the league from 1998-2014 for seven teams, most notably with the Pacers, where he played for the first six seasons of his career. Both during and after his playing career, Harrington has underwent 14 surgeries.
After trying opioids for the pain post-surgery, he finally tried CBD. Now, he told the Indianapolis Star, he’ll never “pop an opioid pill again.”
From seeing the benefits first hand, and at how the view of marijuana in the country has changed over the years, Harrington said it’s only a matter of time before marijuana is legalized in pro sports — something he predicted will happen in the next two years.
“Oh, it’s coming,” he told the Indianapolis Star. “Maybe topical, but it’s coming. I understand no athlete should smoke – I understand people thinking that. But at the end of the day, it’s not the truth. With technology today there’s so many delivery systems to get the CBD into your body, it doesn’t have to be consumed from smoking. That’s one of the stigmas we talk about, educating people. The same medicine a guy can get from smoking, he can get from an edible or a topical.”
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