“I started smoking cannabis in college. During my sophomore year,” discloses NBA legend Allen Iverson. “Entering my rookie year, I got a hold of something quite strong, and that changed my thought process around smoking.”
Now a weed connoisseur, Iverson has joined forces with Al Harrington’s Viola Brands to launch a line of cannabis products and merchandise under The Iverson Collection name.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing in the marijuana world for Iverson. In fact, the athlete was arrested for pot possession back in 1997.
“The first time that I smoked, my high got blown real fast. It was my first day on campus and the coach came up to our apartment looking for me and I was high as hell. I went straight to clean up and everything, and he was only coming up there to check on me because it was my first day on campus. But I was really scared he’d realize I was high. So, my first time smoking was a great feeling up until I found out he was looking for me.”
The Right Partner And The Right Approach
“A lot of people had approached me about cannabis in the past. But none of the offers felt right. That is, until I got a call from Al [Harrington],” Iverson explains when prompted about the partnership with Viola. “Al just explained to me what he was trying to do with his vision, how he’s trying to help people – mainly our people, how he’s trying to educate them and make them more aware of the benefits of cannabis and the stigma around it.
Lured by Harrington’s personality and mission to help and educate people while empowering communities of color, Iverson finally jumped aboard the cannabis train. “I was all in from that point on. For me, being part of the first Black-owned cannabis multinational is major.”
The relationship between the two NBA legends goes well beyond business, though: It’s very personal.
“If I could share a joint with anyone, dead or alive, it would still be Al Harrington,” Iverson asserts. “He’s been on me about weed for years and he’s confident I’ll be alright with the cannabis he shares with me, that it will be right for me. So I trust him; that makes me comfortable.”
For Harrington, Iverson was the perfect fit for Viola too. “When I think about what we are doing in the cannabis space, being a black-owned company and being rare… And then I just thought about how Allen had impacted not only the league but also players like myself. Allen was a game-changer, very disruptive, and always being himself. That is how I feel about Viola too.”
And he continues, “Allen really stuck it to corporate America, which wasn’t comfortable with a lot of what he was doing.”
This, Harrington argues, opened the doors for a whole new era of basketball players. Now, it’s Viola’s turn to do something similar for cannabis entrepreneurs, especially when it comes to entrepreneurs of color.
“When I think about the impact and the awareness we want to bring, I just couldn’t think of anybody bigger in the sports world to do this with besides Allen,” he adds.
According to the duo, the partnership came to be after Iverson visited Viola’s 18,000 sq ft Detroit grow operation back in March.
“Upon seeing the full-scale operation, the true dedication to the plant, along with Viola’s unwavering commitment to increasing minority participation and ownership in the cannabis industry (currently at only 4%), Allen was sure this partnership was meant to be,” explained Harrington in a prior interview for Forbes.
Indica-Dominant, For Our People
The first cannabis product in the Iverson Collection is an Indica-dominant flower dubbed ’96. The name is a reference to the year Allen “The Answer” Iverson was drafted for the NBA.
The strain is a result of a cross between Secret Kush Mints and Grape Stomper.
This complex flavor profile combines a robust grape candy-like aroma coupled with notes of pine and mint. As Harrington explicates, ‘96 is coated in crystal trichomes and displays a variety of colors pulling from Secret Kush Mints’ vivid greens and Grape Stomper’s signature purples.
Al and Allen explain the concept was carefully crafted for their own culture.
“I feel like our culture, we gravitate more towards Indicas than Sativas,” Harrington voices. However, he assures The Iverson Collection will soon feature Sativas and hybrids, as well as many other cool products.
“But the first one had to be really representative of our culture. Indica, grape-flavored, you know,” adds Iverson. “The ’96 strain not only tastes good, but it also allows you to sit back and relax – and maybe watch basketball highlights.”
In fact, it was not only the effect of ’96 that was designed for a specific culture. The grape-forward taste also carries its own legacy.
“Our culture loves ‘gas,’ cannabis that tastes like gas or diesel. We want that strong stuff. So, when we thought about this opportunity with Allen Iverson, we felt it had to taste like gas and grapes. And we achieved that for sure,” says Harrington.
“I wanted something that reminded me of Dom Perignon and this was it,” adds Iverson.
Beyond cannabis, The Iverson Collection features non-herb products. The initial merch lineup includes t-shirts, hoodies, grinders, lighters, basketballs and more.
Wellbeing And Wellness
While The Iverson Collection is not strictly marketed as a medical cannabis line, both Iverson and Harrington find medicinal uses for it.
“I use it for medical [purposes], for sure,” declares Harrington. “The life that I live now, running a business, being a husband, raising kids and taking care of my family, I need something just to get away. And then, I also use it for my body, to treat the many injuries I had during my career. I haven’t taken any over-the-counter pharma medications in maybe 10 years. It’s so common in my family that even my kids know what cannabinoids are.”
Iverson nods all along, in agreement with his good friend Al. “People have their own opinions and that’s a good thing. From my point of view, I’m living proof of a cannabis consumer being active. It’s not weed that will make you lazy: It’s just a state of mind.”
“This is definitely a lifestyle. It’s medicine but also for hanging out with friends,” he supplements. “This is something I truly believe in. I believe in plant medicine.”
Asked about the stereotypes about cannabis consumers being lazy and unproductive, the basketballer duo lights up.
“We don’t even have those conversations anymore. Let them Google it,” they say in tandem while laughing out loud. “Yeah, they can just Google it.”
And Harrington goes on: “We change the stigma on a daily basis by remaining active, productive and smart… When people heard that Allen was involved in cannabis, they all started to reach out. I’ve seen maybe 50 other big celebrities wanting to get into the industry since. And I love that. This is a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s in front of us. And I think it would be a shame if people that look like us don’t benefit from it.”
But for all of this to work, he says, cannabis needs to be regulated on a federal level, “sort of like liquor.” And the change is coming soon.
Nonetheless, there’s a more pressing issue: clemency and expungement.
“This is the stuff that really matters. Letting out the people that are in jail for providing for their families, while we’re now doing the same thing and being able to do it legally.”
Catch several pro-cannabis pro athletes at the most successful cannabis business event in the world, the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference.
Returning to Miami for its 16th edition, this is the place where deals get done, where money is raised, M&A starts, and companies meet investors and key partners. Join us at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel in Florida on April 11-12. Don’t miss out.
Via Forbes. Original publication: Oct 8, 2021.
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