There were many “bad boys” in the NBA during the 80s and 90s. You had Bill Laimbeer, Isaiah Thomas, Rick Mahorn, and Dennis Rodman, who all happened to be on the same team, the Detroit Pistons. After the Bulls put an end to their brief dynasty, it was the era of Michael Jordan and the clean-cut league icons until the Philadelphia 76ers drafted one Allen Iverson in 1996. As the league tried to build a curated image of NBA players by imposing rules involving wearing suits to the games and carrying themselves in a certain way, Iverson refused to conform to the league mandate and brought street culture into the NBA. This didn’t sit well with the league, as it strayed from the golden boy image that the league wanted its stars to perpetuate, but Iverson’s defiance led to him becoming the face of the league in the eyes of the fanbase.
Today, Iverson continues to uphold this image because it is who he is. He demanded that the league and its fans accept him for who he was and never apologized for showing his authentic self whether you liked it or not. He hopes to bring this irreverence and authenticity to a new venture that he started with former NBA player Al Harrington, as they try to shine a light on the benefits of Cannabis for athletes and the rest of the public regarding physical and mental well-being.
“I remember when I was on the cover of SLAM Magazine, they wanted me on the cover bad and wanted me to by myself. Then they go ahead and airbrush all of my tattoos, its like they want me but they only want some of me.”Allen Iverson, via The Players Tribune
Iverson’s struggles with league officials and media trying to manicure his image are similar to the issues that young athletes in America face regarding Cannabis use as athletes. In an age of player empowerment where stars have a hand in the teams they play for and how their roles and minutes are managed, players still do not have the freedom to use Cannabis for medicinal use despite being legal in many states in the USA.
Players want to be themselves and be comfortable in their skin as athletes under the public eye. The NBA players of today seek similar rights to other professionals who can choose where they work and what they do in their free time, and how they medicate. The league has made long strides towards player empowerment and creating a safe working environment for its players; removing the stigma of Cannabis use is probably the last step in securing that freedom that the players truly want and deserve.
After all, the players are the ones on the floor putting their bodies on the line to put fans in the stands by going out there on the court trying to win basketball games. Al Harrington talks about how Cannabis use helped him manage his pain while improving his career and well-being. In today’s society, where Cannabis use is no longer taboo, why does the league continue to uphold the negative stigma that the rest of society has left behind? If it is proven to be beneficial to recovery and wellness, why not let the best athletes in the world use it for that purpose? Until we see NBA players allowed to take complete control of their careers, the era of true player empowerment has yet to begin.