NBA Champion Talks Cannabis In Pro Sport
The first time John Salley smoked weed he broke out into yoga poses. Then in his late-30s, the four-time NBA champion was concluding a 15-year career he’s convinced would have stretched into his 40s had he been allowed to use cannabis. Now 52, his legacy hasn’t been reserved to accomplishments on the court. Salley holds a laundry list of titles – activist, actor, talk show host, entrepreneur and wellness coach. A vocal proponent of medical cannabis, he sees herb as part of the NBA culture (“I was one of the only guys who didn’t smoke”) and hopes the day will come soon when a star player steps up to speak out on the subject. We caught up with Salley over the phone from his home in Los Angeles to talk about his crusade, the power of a plant-based diet, and the potential for cannabis to, as he sees it, “train the community to be better.”
What role do you see cannabis playing in professional sport?
One, it’s gonna cause a big-time flick with all the pharmaceuticals. When the FDA talked about ibuprofen literally causing heart attack and stroke, the NBA started paying attention. Professional athletes usually have a higher rate of death caused by heart complications. When they start paying attention to the heart, they’ll realize that a lot of it comes from clotting and wear and tear on the body, so they’ll recognize the things that CBD can do for the athlete, along with the THC to help them relax.
You told TMZ that cannabis would have prolonged your career on the court. How so?
I’m a high-strung individual and I have anxiety. It would have helped me relax and focus. If at night I would have stayed away from the nightclub, medicated and gone to sleep, it would have been better. If I would have treated my body the way they treat thoroughbred horses, I would’ve played into my late 40s.
You’ve been lyrical about wanting more professional athletes to speak out on cannabis. What if just one big star stepped up?
It has happened, but they were shunned and quieted. When you see an athlete like Michael Phelps with a bong, people look at it like a bad thing. The fastest man on the earth, Usain Bolt, spoke out and they said, ‘he’s just a phenom and he’s Jamaican and that’s what they do.’ Well, then, everyone should do it! When one of them gets his head in the right place and says something, it’s going to be phenomenal. I’d love to see an NBA superstar step up.
A number of former NFL players formed the Gridiron Cannabis Coalition to lobby the league for drug policy reform. Is there need for a similar advocacy group in the NBA?
What’s happening in football is those guys’ voices are so loud because football’s America’s sport. When the NFL talks about something – domestic violence, DUIs, suicide, PTSD – that’s the focus and it gets highlighted. So with these guys up talking about it, it’s literally gonna change the way all sports look at it.
Hall-of-Famer Phil Jackson – a man you’ve said doesn’t make mistakes – called cannabis part of the NBA culture. Do you see it that way?
I do. I was one of the only guys that didn’t smoke weed. The first year the league expanded into Canada, two players went through the border and got caught with a joint.
You’ve been a vegetarian since 1991 and a vegan since 2008. What benefits can athletes gain from adding cannabis to a plant-based diet?
When you’re getting all the nutrients that you’re supposed to get from your food, this plant adds to it. There are certain foods and herbs that come from plants, and those have certain medicinal properties that help you relax, help you sleep, help your brain cells. The same can happen with cannabis, only it’s more targeted. There’s a lot of medicinal properties when it comes to this plant.
“The less toxins you have in your body from factory foods, the more you’ll experience the desirable effects and wellness benefits of cannabis.” Can you elaborate?
Part of it is that your body is constantly working – fighting off viruses, fungus and bacteria – and if you’re alkaline, your body is floating. Imagine having a God-given plant that can relax and heal your body at the same time. If you’re toxic and your body is trying to take it in, it’s going to do wrong for you – it can make you lazy, sometimes it makes you irritable. That’s not the cannabis, but your brain telling you something’s up.
Word is you’re launching a company called Deuces with your daughter Tyla. Is it true vegan edibles will be a staple in your product line?
The reason is I’m already in the vegan food business, and I found a person that can help me infuse certain products that I want to put in there. We have the lotions, the potions, the pills, but we’re gonna start off with shatter and a vape pen, and the vegan edibles will be part of the line-up.
You’ve talked about the potential for cannabis to train the community to be better. What did you mean by that?
In the community, you see all these fast-food joints and big mega-corporations, but the neighbourhoods they’re servicing look like war zones. Look at how many dispensaries there are in the state of Michigan! That’s a lot of jobs that weren’t around in Detroit. It’s good for all communities because so cannabis is helping people get back to the American way of being an entrepreneur.
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