From crushing backboards to crushing kush

Former Atlanta Hawk Al Harrington attends the BET Player Awards. Photo by kobbydagan on

After a successful 16-year basketball career, former NBA player Al Harrington has now taken a new career path by forcing his way into the cannabis game. 

Since his official retirement from basketball in 2016, Harrington’s cannabis brand has become a hot topic in the industry. 

Named Viola after his grandmother Viola Harrington, the business has become one of the largest black-owned cannabis brands in the country. 

Harrington’s Backstory:

Founded in 2011, the Viola brand has taken a long path to get to where it is today. 

Harrington, an Orange, New Jersey native has always been around cannabis. 

As a youth, Harrington was hesitant to smoke the Devil’s Lettuce, as some like to call it, due to the stories he heard that smoking weed would lead to smoking crack. 

Then when he entered the NBA in 1999 at 18, to Harington’s surprise, he reencountered it with his teammates on the Indiana Pacers. 

After staying away from the substance in the NBA, Harrington tried the drug for the first time back in 2007 as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they were bumped from playoff contention. 

Harrington was paranoid at first and thought the cops would come banging on his door or even worse die, after he smoked and would stay away from it 

But while playing for the Denver Nuggets in 2012, Harrington, an avid newspaper reader, read about how cannabis helps people who experience seizures and epilepsy. 

Along with seeing that, Harrington saw that it helped people living with HIV and cancer and how it helped reduce their struggles in everyday life. 

Viola Harrington:

The true inspiration for Harrington’s cannabis empire is his loving grandmother Viola Harrington, who the company is named after. 

Harrington’s grandmother had a long battle with glaucoma, an eye condition that damages the optic nerve and leads to blindness. 

One day Harrington suggested cannabis to his grandmother to help with her glaucoma after seeing all the pharmaceuticals she had to take.

At first, she was hesitant and told Harrington she was “not smoking no reefa,” but eventually gave it a try. 

 A few hours later, Harrington checked on her and saw his grandmother with tears coming down her face and saw she was reading her Bible, something she had not been able to do in three years. 

NBA Endorsement:

Harrington has had a plethora of endorsements since the launch of the Viola brand from the NBA community. 

Former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson, who are now hosts of the ‘All the Smoke’ podcast on Showtime, were once teammates of Harrington and have been highly supportive. 

Historic NBA stars of the past have also liked the brand, such as NBA legend and basketball culture icon Allen Iverson.

Iverson liked the brand so much that back in 2021, he announced he was an official partner with the Viola brand. 

“I’ve had [many]  people approach me with business opportunities, but this one with Al was different,” Iverson said. 

“After seeing how devoted he is to this business and educating me on how beneficial the plant is, it just felt right. I’m excited to be a part of it. Together, we’re about to change the game.”

Harrington having a partnership with a legend and a friend in Iverson is as big as an endorsement Harrington will ever get. 

In that same year, Iverson collaborated with the Viola brand and launched his first strain named ‘96 dedicated to the year Iverson was drafted. 

Currently, the legend is on his second partnership with Viola and has launched another strain named ‘IVERSON ‘01.’

The company launched the strain exclusively in areas of Detroit and is a mixture between F1 Durban, Gushers and Runtz.

“I’m excited to continue the partnership with my brother Al and bring our newest strain to Detroit,” Iverson announced. “Everything I do is for the fans, and this is no different.”

Viola’s Future:

Currently, the Viola brand is stronger than ever and breaking barriers.

In 2021, Viola became the first multinational black-owned cannabis brand as it expanded to Canada. 

Avicanna, a Canadian biopharmaceutical company, announced that they would distribute Viola products across the maple nation. 

“We’re excited to launch in Canada with our partner Avicanna, who shares our vision to increase representation and promote equity within the cannabis industry,” Harrington announced. “And look forward to having Viola’s premium products available at Medical Cannabis by Shoppers.”  

In 2022 the Viola brand closed on a $13 million equity fund. This fund allows the brand to expand to states such as Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey and Maryland.

These big moves shed light on Viola and other black-owned cannabis dispensaries. 

For so long black Americans have been on the negative side of the cannabis industry. That usually involves a prison cell as they are 3.6 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than any other racial group. 

In an industry that Black Americans have pioneered,  it’s great to see black Americans on the business side of marijuana and changing the stigma of cannabis in their community.