Viola is giving an NBA icon his own line of strains after decades of influence in sports, fashion, and popular culture.
The NBA’s 2001 Most Valuable Player, Allen Iverson, was wildly popular for his electric style of play and fashion sense during his time playing professional basketball. Last week, Al Harrington’s Viola announced their first-ever talent partnership with Iverson, including a collection of strains that honor the rich legacy of the freshly-minted Hall of Famer.
Though Harrington and Iverson’s never got the chance to play for the same team during their 12 concurrent seasons, the pair seems more than ready to spread the healing power of cannabis while shutting down the racist origins of the plant’s stigmas.
Why Allen Iverson is already an icon
To fully understand the impact of Viola working with A.I., you’d first have to understand Allen Iverson. His “brand” has thrived for 25 years, in spite of many of the same racist stigmas and institutions the cannabis industry is still fighting today – and it’s off the strength of skill and character alone.
“What difference (does) it make how I wear my hair? They were basically saying, ‘This guy is a thug.’ But I was just being myself.”
For most of his playing career, the adoration Iverson received from fans was countered by stark disapproval from corporate interests in the media and the NBA.
When he entered the NBA in 1996, the basketball world was desperately looking to bank on the next Michael Jordan, whose mainstream appeal grossed billions for the league and adjacent sponsors. But much of the same massive industrial complex that blossomed from MJ’s role-model marketability openly resented A.I.’s refusal to conform to their ideas of who he should be and what he should look like.
Iverson was deemed “the symbol of youthful arrogance and disrespect in the NBA” and told multiple times that he needed to change his image in order to win the league’s acceptance. Along with other racist criticism that he received for things such as wearing a durag and cornrows and being heavily tattooed, Allen Iverson was also judged for his past – including a cannabis conviction.
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The persecution of a phenom
In 1997, a 22-year-old Iverson was arrested for marijuana possession in his hometown of Hampton, Virginia after officers “smelled weed” and found “a 2 1/2-inch-long marijuana cigarette” and an unloaded gun in his vehicle.
“[Iverson] gave everybody the courage to be who they are. And when I think about what we’re doing in cannabis, it’s the same thing. We’re stepping out there for the people that are a little afraid, and giving them a glimpse of what it would look like if they did it, too.”
The sports star was still battling the negative PR of a traumatic 1993 imprisonment that cut his promising high school football and basketball careers short and jeopardized his ability to play either sport in college.
Thankfully, five months into his five-year sentence, the conviction was reversed. But still, Iverson became the subject of Reefer Madness-style fearmongering from outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, all of which used coded and not-so-coded racist language in early coverage of his career.
In 2005, NBA commissioner David Stern even went as far as instituting a dress code that required players to wear conservative business casual clothing at games and official league events – a clear shot at Iverson’s influence on a generation of players that had modeled themselves in his image of braids, diamonds, tats, and King-sized throwback jerseys.
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Then and now, it’s clear that the issue with Iverson’s fashion was never about style or aesthetic. It was cultural warfare, not unlike the racist propaganda that made marijuana illegal for past generations .
It makes all the sense in the world that a brand with a strong commitment to justice (like Viola) is ready to lift him up and help him shine in the cannabis industry.
Viola and the Iverson Collection
Though media gatekeepers of the 1990s definitely tried, no one could keep a lid on Allen Iverson’s talent. His presence raised questions about race and class that few knew how to unpack for a primetime audience, but his skill and magnetism were undeniable.
For Viola’s Al Harrington, working with Iverson is deeper than numbers and pure business fundamentals. It’s about giving a legend his just due — both for the sweat equity Iverson has already earned and for the untapped potential he still holds as an influencer.
Basketball fans will always remember Iverson as the greatest “pound-for-pound” player in NBA history because of his physics-defying dominance over far bigger opponents.
Now, gram-for-gram, Iverson’s partnership with Viola could turn out to be as legendary as his playing career if they continue to prioritize social equity and MVP-level products that continue to change the game.