The towering 7-foot power forward/center played for three different championship teams throughout his 14-year career, serving as an effective role player for the 1980’s Bad Boys Detroit Pistons, 1990’s Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, and 2000’s Shaq/Kobe-era Los Angeles Lakers.
He never even tried cannabis until well into his late 30s, when he decided to smoke with a close teammate during Salley’s first visit to Sacramento. Salley would eventually incorporate cannabis into a daily lifestyle shortly after his foot surgeon recommended medical marijuana as a safer alternative to prescription painkillers during rehab.
Now 51, Salley has transformed into a devout advocate for medical cannabis use and law reform, and has embraced the culture as his own.
We recently sat down for a delicious vegan lunch with Salley in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino to talk about his passion for pot, which current NBA players remind him of specific strains and why he believes the league should allow its players to medicate.
Cannabis Now: How and when were you first introduced to cannabis?
John Salley: My brothers in the early ’70s, but back then it was called “pot.” And I was told to never do it, while they were doing it and being successful. You know, I bought into the bull that America was spreading about cannabis, not knowing how deep it went.
At 36 years old, it was my first time in Sacramento, California, smoking some chronic from one of my favorite teammates. I think I slept nine straight hours and had no pain in my body. It was the first morning that I didn’t have to wake up and take Ibuprofen.
When did you start using cannabis medically?
Three years later, I was getting my feet operated on at 39. The guy gave me Vicodin, and I was on “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” the same day I had the operation. I guess the Vicodin stays in your body, and I was answering questions 30 seconds late. And then I go to [my surgeon] and said I can’t take drugs, man.
He said, “I can give you a medical marijuana license.” And I said, “You’re telling me to smoke marijuana?” He said, “Well if you want to alleviate pain naturally.” Now this is my foot surgeon, and I totally didn’t believe it, but now I have access to cannabis, and that was it. I’m going to be 52 in May, and I’ve been an advocate for it since.
How do you prefer to medicate?
I have it in tinctures, I have it in edibles, I have it in lotions, potions, pills, flower, oil … I’ve been all about it.
How are you currently involved with cannabis?
The big one is a company in Canada called Canopy, which owns Tweed, that Snoop Dogg just made a big announcement for. They’re not trying to make a monopoly, but trying to get a control of it, so the government can know exactly what they’re getting. But, treating it with that Canadian/European mentality, we need to keep it as positive as possible, not try to make it into a synthetic.
I got involved with making glass called Splendor Glass, we make hookahs. I got an unbelievable collection of glass. I got about close to $60-70,000 worth of glass pieces. I’m about to start selling them because I want new glass, and I treat it like art on the wall. I’m selling my Picassos, and I’m going to get a couple of Monet’s.
How do you believe medical marijuana benefits athletes and NBA players in particular?
We run into a certain amount of problems when we retire as NBA ball players. One thing that happens is, when you get in your 40s, you go through this body test. I found out that the insides of me from all the wear and tear was like 70 years old – at 44 years old. [Medical cannabis] relaxes a lot of muscles. The CBD that I take now relaxes the muscles in my neck.
Michael Phelps has a picture of him smoking a bong. Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time. I would give him one of my Splendor bongs and some of my premiere flower and say, “Thank you for making America great,” that’s what you give him. He just proved to you that he can smoke bong rips and swim better than some dolphins.
Have you or any other players tried bringing up the matter with the Association?
If you see enough in the news, that’s when they hear it, because they’re listening for everything. But if you go in a closed spot, they know it’s you talking just to them, they can silence you.
But when it becomes a topic, if all of a sudden a player ever gets in trouble again, then we can explain how then the rest of the league should be suspended for drinking. How can you have a beer sponsor right under your [basketball] rim, and then feel that it’s okay to talk about another way people relax in their private time? It just doesn’t make sense.
You don’t have to single out any players, but please tell us which of the following teams you played for smoked weed. Let’s start with the Bad Boys Pistons.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
The Lake Show.
Most definitely. Also the Miami Heat.
The Miami Heat were the notorious ones?
I would say. And it was probably the most fun I had.
I’m sure you know your cannabis strains. I’m going to throw out a few current NBA players and you tell me what strain their game reminds you of, starting with Kobe Bryant.
Kobe is OG Kush. He has the purest game of a basketball player. He can dribble, defend, he knows time and clock, he knows position and gain, he knows when to coast, when to turn on, when to keep it on, and how to keep you down. The only way of stopping him is hoping the clock runs out.
I’m gonna call him my favorite strain, which is Blue Dream, because of that beautiful light-blue that they wear. Blue Dream gives you a body high and it expands your brain. It just seems like when he’s playing, it’s fearless, and it’s just like, flowing. So Blue Dream.
Jack Herer. Just like that brow, he won’t let it go.
Because John Wall plays in Washington [D.C.] we don’t get to see him that much, but he was right to be the number one pick, and he can play. Sour Diesel.
Strawberry Cough. It’s so funny, when I saw it in the movie “Children of Men.” I was like, see, that’s the house I want. In the woods, part of the woods, no critters in the house, growing weed where you would have a dining room. That’s life.
I would say LBJ is Strawberry Cough. You do taste it.
Last one, Kristaps Porzingis.
The fact that everybody can say his name – what’s a new strain that is blowing everybody away?
Gelato maybe, or Zkittlez.
I was at the draft last year, when [New York Knicks fans] booed him. I said, “This is this the biggest mistake these fans have ever made.” Because Phil Jackson doesn’t make mistakes. If you can get a 7’3” 19-year-old who can shoot, dribble, block shots and run the court, I don’t care where he’s from. You take that.
What I love the most about him, is they asked him how he learned our culture. He said, “I learned all my American culture from World Star Hip-Hop.”
Finally, as a health advocate, how would you convince the normal person to accept cannabis?
Alcohol has its benefits, but the more you drink of it, the more damage you’re doing to your body. One glass of red wine is good for your heart, two glasses is bad for your heart.
Two joints is a great night. Three bowls is a better night, while healing properties inside your body. That’s me being a health coach, a health advocate, a vegan, a seeker of truth.