After the NBA, Al Harrington is exploring the weed business : The Limits with Jay Williams One of Al Harrington's biggest takeaways from his sixteen-year run in the NBA? Never let a rookie take your spot. The former power forward constantly found ways to evolve the game to outsmart new competitors — and, in his words, "provide a new offering."

In his post-game career, he's used that mindset to build the cannabis company Viola, which sells high-quality forms of marijuana. But Viola's mission isn't solely to sell product. Instead, Al wants to ensure that Viola gives Black and brown entrepreneurs significant opportunity in the legal, multi-billion dollar cannabis industry.

Al recognizes how decades of the American War on Drugs have ravaged Black and brown communities with disproportionate mass incarceration rates for marijuana-related offenses. He wants to offset that lasting harm by finding seats for entrepreneurs of color at the table.

Al sat down with Jay to discuss the stigmas he has overcome as a Black former NBA player building a cannabis company, the challenges he's facing bringing up Black entrepreneurs in the space, and why Viola is the LVMH of weed. Plus, he talks about his preferred strain of cannabis, and what to ask for in a dispensary.

EXPLICIT CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains discussion of drug use and is only appropriate for adult audiences.

Former NBA player Al Harrington on overcoming stigma and building a cannabis company

Former NBA player Al Harrington on overcoming stigma and building a cannabis company

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Al Harrington. Photo illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR hide caption

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Photo illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR

Al Harrington.

Photo illustration by Estefania Mitre/NPR

One of Al Harrington's biggest takeaways from his 16-year run in the NBA? Never let a rookie take your spot. The former power forward constantly found ways to evolve the game to outsmart new competitors — and, in his words, "provide a new offering."

In his post-game career, he's used that mindset to build the cannabis company Viola, which sells high-quality forms of marijuana. But Viola's mission isn't solely to sell product. Instead, Al wants to ensure that Viola gives entrepreneurs of color significant opportunity in the legal, multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

Al recognizes how decades of the American War on Drugs have ravaged Black and brown communities with disproportionate mass incarceration rates for marijuana-related offenses. He wants to offset that lasting harm by finding seats for entrepreneurs of color at the table.

Al sat down with Jay to discuss the stigmas he has overcome as a Black former NBA player building a cannabis company, the challenges he's facing bringing up Black entrepreneurs in the space, and why Viola is the LVMH of weed. Plus, he talks about his preferred strain of cannabis, and what to ask for in a dispensary.

Interview highlights

Al has had the benefit of working as a professional since he was young, going straight to the league after high school. Translating the knowledge from his NBA career into the business world, Al says to never get comfortable, no matter how good you are, because new competitors will always be waiting for your spot.

Every year, I feel like I added to my game, and I take that into the business world in cannabis. I been in this 11 years, and I feel like if I continue to stay the same, then eventually people gonna pass me by. Just like if the game didn't evolve, you know the guys that play like this . . . we'd all be still playing like that . . . So that's how I look at my business every year. We gotta get better; we gotta come up with a new offering; we gotta outwork the next person. No matter how much of a lead we think we got, no matter how much we think we're this pedestal, we gotta keep raising the bar.

He also teaches us the importance of keeping business about your people and your community, not purely the money.

I know people that came into the industry with $50 million, $100 million, $200 million and literally out of business in 24 months. I think that because we can stay true to that to make sure that we have quality product and we stay true to our purpose which is about uplifting, educating and empowering people of color, I feel like our community and other communities have definitely supported what we're doing.

Jay and Al talk through the stigmas about marijuana that have been present since the beginning of the American War on Drugs, including its use in the NBA. Al also talks about educating individuals about the benefits of marijuana and the growing interest of entrepreneurs in this multibillion-dollar industry.

We'd be in a real estate meeting or technology meeting and everybody's like, well what's everybody's working on? I'm like, well, you know, I'm actually at a small cannabis company and I'm doing this, and the whole meeting would shift to me and what I'm doing in this space, you know what I'm saying. So it made me become more and more comfortable to start talking about it because so many people was interested in what was actually going on in the industry. And, you know, we're talking about 11 years ago when people were still afraid about going to jail. Now you look at the industry, it's wide open, it's being openly sold damn near everywhere and now it's a way easier transition for people to consider.


EXPLICIT CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains discussion of drug use and is only appropriate for adult audiences.

The Limits with Jay Williams drops episodes every Tuesday. On Thursdays, we drop bonus content only available to subscribers of The Limits Plus. Subscribe today and access sponsor-free episodes, weekly bonus content and more. Follow Jay on Instagram and Twitter. Email us at thelimits@npr.org.

The Limits is produced by Mano Sundaresan, Leena Sanzgiri and Barton Girdwood. Our intern is Danielle Soto. Our Executive Producers are Karen Kinney and Yolanda Sangweni. Our Senior Vice-President of Programming and Audience Development is Anya Grundmann. Music by Ramtin Arablouei. Special thanks to Christina Hardy, Rhudy Correa and Charla Riggi.