How This Former NBA Forward Is Improving the Cannabis Industry for People of Color

How This Former NBA Forward Is Improving the Cannabis Industry for People of Color

Al Harrington has already had quite a career. Over a span of more than 16 years, Harrington played pro basketball for the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, and the Washington Wizards. Leaving the world of pro basketball in 2015, he’s ready for another chapter. One of the first pro athletes to publicly support cannabis use, Harrington is launching into a new life phase, and guess what? It involves cannabis, something he is passionate about.

Harrington is the founder and CEO of cannabis producer Viola Brands. He’s ready to make a difference — he’s been vocal in his aim to create 100 Black millionaires through the brand’s social equity program, Viola Cares. The brand’s business incubator plans to help legalize unlicensed product brands and businesses owned by people of color.

Who is Viola?

Viola just happens to be Harrington’s grandmother’s name, and her own chronic pain was relieved by cannabis. Harrington wrote an article for in January 2018 called, ‘9 Reasons to End the War on Marijuana’. He describes how Viola’s quality of life improved in 2011 after she tried cannabis.

Just before the COVID pandemic kicked off, in late February, Viola Brands unveiled Viola Cares. The program partners with the legal advocacy organization Root & Rebound. The first official outreach project provides a toolkit of sorts, designed just for folks who have cannabis-related convictions. The kit is called “A New Leaf: A How-To Guide for Successful Reentry After A Cannabis Conviction.”

Passion for advocacy

Harrington’s interest in cannabis was triggered by prescription drugs that he was prescribed for injuries he received throughout his career. This prompted him to seek an alternative mode of medicinal relief.

Harrington underwent back surgery, while in the NBA, which left him with chronic pain. The doctor’s fix? A prescription for opioids, which left him feeling woozy. For more than a decade, he took another medication for inflammation two times a day, just to get through the day. After retirement, he started using a topical CBD cream. He realized it helped with his pain, minus all the crazy side effects.

In a recent interview in article, Harrington describes some of the pushback he received from his advisors during his initial support for cannabis use. The challenges he faces as a minority entrepreneur in a “vanilla” industry will motivate others to challenge the status quo.

About Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on, and