The former NBA players Allen Iverson and Al Harrington have joined forces to make weed more accessible for all. The premium cannabis brand Viola, founded in 2011 by Harrington and named after his grandmother, is revolutionizing the industry, one puff at a time. One of Viola’s main objectives is to increase minority ownership in the cannabis space and to create more opportunities for people of color. Enter Allen Iverson. The Hall of Famer has partnered with Viola in a multi-year deal to create his own strain, along with vape pens, CBD topicals, and concentrates. Below, the two former NBA superstars discuss their new collaboration, first-time smoking stories with Biggie, and how they plan to change the game.
AL HARRINGTON: Thanks again for sitting down with me to chop it up about this collab. My first question for you is, what were your initial thoughts when I reached out to you about us working together in the cannabis space and doing a strain?
ALLEN IVERSON: At first, I really wasn’t on it as hard as I am now. I checked with my management and made sure it was something that I wanted to do. I definitely wanted to do something with you, being the businessman that you are. And after looking at the whole picture, the vision, and your excitement, I just thought it would be a great idea. I’m glad I took the opportunity to do something great like this.
HARRINGTON: This was so special to me because when we compete against each other, we don’t have a chance to give each other flowers. You’ve always been somebody that I looked up to. And not only me, but my whole crew. If you ask my homeboys who their favorite player is between you and me, they’ll say you. That’s how important you were to my circle of friends and to the culture in general. I know I tell you stories all the time, but the highlight of playing against the 76ers was driving down that hill to see what kind of car you were driving that day. You always inspired us and made us want more. I wanted a nicer Rolex and I wanted a Benz in the beginning until I saw you driving Rolls Royces and Bentleys. You move culture, so I knew this was going to be a very big moment in the industry. I’m so honored and privileged to be working with you. What are some of the things that excite you about coming into the cannabis industry?
IVERSON: Everything that you educated me on about the benefits of it and how it can help people. You were in the field hoopin’ and you were telling me about how it can benefit young players. And a lot of it had to do with the excitement of my family and friends. I would say about 75 percent of my family and the people that I deal with on an everyday basis smoke. So I thought it would be a great idea and I wanted to be a part of it, especially knowing that it can help a lot of people and that there were so many positive aspects of it.
HARRINGTON: When I first started, I didn’t smoke at all. I used to look at my teammates that smoked all the time as being guys who weren’t serious about their craft. But most of the guys that were smoking were the best players on the team. It was always one of the top five players on the team that smoked. So it eventually changed my opinion towards it. When I first started, it was all about stigma. We were all taught that cannabis was a gateway drug. There are so many things that people have put on this plant to demonize it that’s just factually not true. So when I got a chance to see what the benefits of it were, I wanted to change people’s perceptions because, to me, it’s the most unique and dynamic plant in the world. Not only can you smoke it to get high, but you can use it for so many different medicinal benefits. Then, when you get into hemp, there are so many different things you can use to tap into all the things that the plant can actually do. So when I think about my first time smoking, I was in Phoenix, Arizona, with the team and we were watching the Nuggets and Clippers play. We needed the Clippers to beat the Nuggets, so if we beat Phoenix the next night, we would’ve gotten into the playoffs. And of course, the Clippers were the bum-ass Clippers and they lost. So we’re all sitting at the bar and everyone’s frustrated. The season was over, we worked so hard, we won 46 games. We get back to the hotel and everyone starts smoking. I’m sitting there having my drink and they were like, “Al, tonight you’re smokin’ bro.” I smoked and I’ll never forget how paranoid I was. I didn’t even go out that night and I never missed a night out. That was my first experience with cannabis and I’m happy I didn’t stop there. Do you have any funny stories about the first time you ever smoked?
IVERSON: One of the first times was when I first got drafted and I went up to New York. I was with Bad Boy, with Puff and them. When I got there, I came to the studio and Big was in there recording Life After Death. We were sitting in there and we were smoking. I remember having a really bad episode where I went to the bathroom and I couldn’t find my way back to the studio. I was so high. I had on a Janet Jackson t-shirt, the one where the guy has his hands on her boobs, but it was a cartoon. It was an alien. I remember going to the bathroom and looking at the shirt and seeing the actual photo. I thought I was trippin’. I was wiping my shirt to wipe the real picture back on the shirt when in reality, it was a cartoon. That’s how gone I was. I remember walking back and forth and trying to get back into the studio. I could never find my way back and kept ending up at the restroom. So I just tried one of the doors, and Puff was in the room with his mom. Big, [Lil’] Cease, and Brian McKnight was in there. And everybody was looking at me crazy. I was talking to Cease and he asked if I was trying to smoke again. I was like, “Yeah, what’s up?” And he said, “What you want? The hash or the chronic?” And I was like, “What?! The hash?” And he was like, “Yeah, that’s what you smoked the last time.” It was like, oh shit, that’s why I was trippin’. I told my homeboys that we had to get up outta there. That was 26 years ago and the last time I even thought of smoking some hash.
HARRINGTON: [Laughs] That’s funny. One thing I learned about entertainers and rappers is you never smoke something that they got.
IVERSON: Yeah! You told me that.
HARRINGTON: Don’t do that bro.
IVERSON: Stay in your own lane, man. But the thing is, I had smoked a little bit in college and I had never tripped like that. I just always felt good. And then once he told me it was hash, I probably started trippin’ even more.
HARRINGTON: Well for one, you were probably smoking reggie in college.
IVERSON: [Laughs] Probably. I don’t think chronic was even thought of, especially on the East Coast.
HARRINGTON: In the cannabis space now, they call it rapper weed. As entertainers, we have access to weed that normal people in college don’t. And it’s funny because the reason me and you are both on this call is because of someone’s first time. It was my grandmother’s. About ten years ago, when she came to see me play for the Denver Nuggets, I had just started reading a bunch of articles about all the benefits of cannabis. She was telling me that she was suffering from all these different things—glaucoma, high blood pressure, diabetes. I told her, “Grandma, I was just reading about the benefits of cannabis on glaucoma patients.” She finally asked me, “Well, what is cannabis?” And I told her it’s marijuana. Then she was like, “Boy I ain’t smokin’ no reefer.” So the next day, I told her to try it and that it would be our little secret, and now I’ve told the whole world. [Laughs] She was 79 years old at the time, so for her to be able to open up her mind and actually give it a try felt like god at work. I think about everything I dealt with in my community growing up with the War on Drugs and seeing my uncles get locked up for years for nickel bags. What was it like growing up in Virginia? How were drugs policed in your community?
IVERSON: It literally destroyed a bunch of lives. I saw it as far as family members, friends, you name it. It had a big effect on my community. But when you think about cannabis, everybody did it. You couldn’t find a person that didn’t smoke. It’s been that way throughout my career. As I got older, I wasn’t as big on it as I was when I was younger. With my family, this collab is all they wanna talk about. They ask when it’s coming out and I say, “Call Al.” They drive me crazy about it. I think it’s gonna be successful in a positive way.
HARRINGTON: That’s why this was so important. Obviously, the strain is important and we want to give people a chance to smoke it and get high as hell off it. But the deeper meaning is showing that two African American brothers can come together and do business. We can also raise awareness around the opportunities in the cannabis space because as we know, it destroyed our communities. Around 85 percent of all drug arrests in African American communities have always been cannabis-related. When I look at myself in this space now, Black people only represent four to six percent of the entire industry. We were the ones that were always locked up, and at the end of the day, we never owned farms to grow it and we never owned trucking companies to get into our community. But once it got to our community, that’s when the policing started. Hopefully we can inspire other people of color to realize that cannabis is the opportunity to rebuild our community. Generational wealth is at risk if we don’t do it. Black people started rice, sugar cotton, alcohol, the lottery. These are all industries that we helped pioneer and we have no ownership in. In those days, we didn’t have the resources that we have now. Now, we should be able to own a part of this industry. With this collaboration, it’s bigger than a strain and it’s bigger than Viola. This is our opportunity to help liberate our people.
IVERSON: We come to change game.
HARRINGTON: Gamechangers. That’s who we are and what we represent. So one last question. When you think about a strain that represents Allen Iverson, how do you want people to feel when they smoke it?
IVERSON: I want it to be so helpful to them and feel so good. I want them to chase that same positive feeling every time. I want them to tell other people and spread the word. I want it to be different than anything, just like I am as a man and as a basketball player. I’m a guy that changed the game. I just want it to be special and I think we’re headed in that direction.
HARRINGTON: Yes sir. We droppin’ on October 2 in California. Cali is definitely leading the cannabis culture so that’s the reason why we’re going to start there. We’re gonna drop one strain of just flower first. Then we’re gonna do pre-rolls, vapes, concentrates, and then we have our CBD line called Replay that’ll have topicals. We’re working with the NBA to make it accessible to the players next year. I had 14 surgeries and you were a warrior in your career. I remember watching Sports Center around the playoffs and finals, and they would show a picture of you and all the things that were bothering you. But you still somehow found a way to get 35 and lead your team to a win. So I’m really hype about getting these products to the people. This first strain is heavy. It’s one of those strains that’s gonna hit you in the mouth. So once again, thank you. I love you my brother and I’m just really excited about this journey that we’re about to go on.
IVERSON: Appreciate you. I love you, my brother. Thanks for bringing me on board.
HARRINGTON: Yes, sir. Thank you, OG.