Viola is coming to Pennsylvania.
The city of brotherly love will welcome former NBA stars Al Harrington, who is Viola’s CEO, and Allen Iverson on Saturday, Sept. 2 for the launch of their cannabis strain “Iverson ’01.”
The launch event is part of Viola’s introduction to the state market and will be held at Green Thumb Industry’s new Northeast Philadelphia RISE dispensary location.
Having Iverson as a business partner in New Jersey and now Pennsylvania has created an “unbelievable turnout,” Harrington told Green Market Report, and his support has been crucial to the success of the brand.
The idea to partner up first came to Harrington during his time playing in Ice Cube’s Big 3 basketball league, where he often crossed paths with “Big Chuck” – Iverson’s nickname.
“I was just like, ‘Chuck, you ever thought about putting out a cannabis strain?’” Harrington said. “He literally shut me down. He was like, ‘Nah I’m good.’”
It took Harrington almost two years and several conversations with Iverson’s advisors for the cautious NBA legend to finally come around.
“He wouldn’t even consider it … He just didn’t know how it was going to affect his brand, how people were going to perceive what he was actually doing,” Harringon said. “Once I got him to the point where he was comfortable with it, we been flyin’ high ever since.”
In addition to Iverson, Harrington is also joining forces with other athletes, including former NBA player JR Smith, who is already a partner and investor in Viola. They plan to tease his first product line, the “Swish Pack,” next month, Harrington confirmed.
Harrington predicts that the representation of NBA players in cannabis will only grow.
“I think that most guys in the NBA are now reaching out to me asking how can they get involved? How can they do a strain?” he said.
Despite the current restrictions in the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement that prevent players from directly promoting cannabis, Harrington believes there are ways around it.
“There’s always ways around things … without being directly connected,” he said, emphasizing that partnering with credible figures such as himself could be advantageous for players, even if they cannot directly promote THC cannabis.
Additionally, Harrington hinted at positive changes on the horizon, as new discussions about rescheduling cannabis could ultimately loosen the tension around players getting involved in the industry. He also hopes that players would soon be allowed to start cannabis brands just like they are permitted to start alcohol brands.
Harrington confirmed that Viola is already structured as a non-plant touching company, a setup necessary to accommodate its investor base, which includes current and recently retired players, as well as institutional investors.
Viola, he said, could serve as a vehicle for launching player-branded cannabis products in the future.
“LeBron has Lobos, right? They should be able to do it with cannabis as well,” Harrington said. “And I think that’s gonna happen sooner than later. And hopefully they use me as the bridge to launch these brands.”