John Salley: NBA cannabis smokers ‘were always the better players’

Eaze Team
Jan 25, 2019

John Salley and Troy Smith would know.

When the first NBA player with championship rings from three different teams and a Heisman Trophy winner tell you that smoking cannabis doesn’t hurt elite athletic performance – in fact, it probably helps – there might be something going on here.

Salley and Smith were guests last Friday at the second annual Eaze Summit – a gathering of Eaze’s entire workforce, its brand and dispensary partners, and other cannabis-industry VIPs – for a fireside chat moderated by Eaze Associate General Counsel David Adams in Marina Del Rey, California.

[SEE ALSO: Eaze Insights 2018: Cannabis consumers diversified in 2018]

“I am a client,” Salley told a roomful of appreciative Eaze employees, kicking off the freewheeling talk. Their stories had the room in stitches, touching on their first experiences (Smith started early, Salley at the end of his career), how the plant influenced their lives, and the biggest misconceptions around cannabis and athletic performance.

“It was a trip, because when I got in the NBA, I was experiencing different things – I would go to comedy stores as opposed to nightclubs and things like that – and there’s guys on the team that you know smoke weed,” Salley said. “And they hung together. As I got older, I realized those were always the better players on the team.”

“Eaze has made it easy for the Lakers to win!”

Salley, who says he was firmly anti-marijuana until he first tried it during his final pro season in 2000, certainly played with some of the greats: his career included stints in Detroit, Miami, Toronto, Chicago, Greece (Panathinaikos), and Los Angeles (Lakers). Salley was careful not to name names, with one notable exception:

“It sounds crazy but like – Stephen Jackson, good friend of mine – Stephen Jackson, as you know, always had the best weed. Great ballplayer! And whenever he was traded to another team, they played better,” Salley said. “I heard some other player, I’m not going to say his name, but a (weed) container fell out of his car. And then he won two championships in a row.”

John Salley, left, and Troy Smith, center, at the 2018 Eaze Summit.

Lest you think Salley was being facetious or merely playing to the crowd, the notion was strongly backed by Smith, the star Ohio State quarterback who won the Heisman in 2006 (and completed 420 passes in five NFL seasons). Smith said he’d avoided alcohol and hard drugs while growing up in Cleveland after watching what they did to loved ones, but tried cannabis in his youth and never looked back.

“I had what I would say was a decent drag,” Smith said of his first experience. “And I played the best rounds of football you could ever play. The most oxygen that ever pumped through my lungs … and it was a new love that was born.”

To be sure, neither Smith nor Salley suggested that they were high while competing professionally. But they definitely realized the advantages of cannabis as a way to wind down, recover, and heal without any harmful effect on performance.

[SEE ALSO: Cancer, cannabis and an MMA miracle: Hansel Aquino’s incredible comeback]

“I can’t say that I understood back then what my endocannabinoid system was,” Smith said of his early days. “But it was always a way for the people around us to release, and by that I mean going from being dry, back-and-forth people in Cleveland, Ohio, to going around with a smile on their face. People who were definitely decent to deal with afterwards. And you know you’ll get a decent meal or two in there, too.”

Salley, who went on to star in the Bad Boys franchise and became the charismatic, straight-talking host of The Best Damn Sports Show Period on Fox, said his experience wiped away years of believing in a stigma that still persists.

“Just the mentality that, if you [smoke cannabis], you’re not going to be a good player. I’ll mess up your lungs,” Salley said. “They have it so wrong when comparing us to cigarettes.”

And Salley isn’t just a cannabis convert; he’s now active in the industry.

“Now not only have I tried to grow it and help people get it, but I’m also in business with my daughter (with her company) Deuces 22, hopefully selling the best cannabis in California,” Salley said.

Asked which professional league will be the first with marijuana-friendly policies and cannabis sponsors, both Salley and Smith agreed that the NBA would be first – and the NFL would be last. In the meantime, the players will just have to enjoy the moment however they can.

“They’ve been spoiled,” Salley said. “Eaze has made it easy for the Lakers to win!”

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