NBA Star Power comes out for a Cannabis basketball tournament at Footprint Center
With the support of the NBA and sponsorships from some of the biggest names in the cannabis industry, weed and basketball took center court at the home of the Phoenix Suns on January 6.
The expansive lobby of the Footprint Center was filled with about two-dozen vendors — from well-known brands such as Mint, Jeeter, and Nirvana Center, to smaller mom-and-pop operations and local favorites, including Mary Jane SmokeWear — handing out swag bags, talking up products, and hosting contests. But the trash-talking, showboating, and layups were saved for the court.
For three hours, the arena hosted the Cannabis Cactus Charity 3-on-3, where teams with rosters of cannabis industry employees competed in a charity basketball tournament to raise funds and boost the profile of cannabis and medical marijuana.
“We're so blessed,” said Michael Cassini, founder and publisher of Cannabis Cactus, the Phoenix-based weed magazine that organized the charity event. “This is three years in the making — since COVID we had this plan. Now the Phoenix Suns are one of the top teams in the league and have welcomed us with open arms, and thank you to the NBA for sanctioning this event.”
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“It's just about making a presence in [the Footprint Center] and normalizing that presence of being around cannabis brands and understanding that this is medicine and not just a game for these companies,” he added.
The tournament raised $23,000 for Cactus Cares Cooperative, a nonprofit that assists people recently released from prison in restarting their lives, Cassini said. The organization also helps other nonprofits in the Valley.
NBA Stars Show Out
The event attracted star power. Former NBA players — including Hall of Fame inductees Gary Payton and Paul Pierce, along with Derek Fisher — were on hand, and retired NFL safety Anthony Dorsett also attended. The athletes took note of a cannabis event taking place inside a pro sports venue.
“We've got a lot of former NBA players, NFL, baseball players that are hurting,” Payton said. “They're not getting them the treatments. And this is a sign to say hey, let's see if this helps, let's see if it works, let's see if it's going to help them get up in the morning. This is a start to show people that this marijuana and weed is something serious that is going to help people’s lives.”
Payton said he learned about the impact of marijuana when his mom was struggling with cancer before she died in 2019.
“It was like a thing where when my mom was dying and I gave it to her, she got off the medicine. She got off a lot of stuff and was feeling better, and became my mom again,” he said.
Dorsett said marijuana helped his father, Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett, after he was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition linked to repeated blows to the head.
“The NBA and a few other sports leagues are actually recognizing the medicinal side of marijuana. It's not just a recreational drug,” Dorsett said. “What’s going on is people understanding that this actually gets you off prescription meds and helps you a number of ways. It’s good to see the NBA and other professional leagues actually listening and paying attention to what history has been showing us for years.”
Making Recreational Pot Legit
The event marked the first time the NBA has worked with cannabis brands, Cassini said. The NBA, like other professional sports leagues, has struggled with its approach to cannabis use among players and to acknowledge its medical benefits. At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the NBA dropped random testing for marijuana and has kept the suspension in place for the third consecutive season.
Daniel Williams, a Phoenix social media celebrity, said events such as the tournament help normalize marijuana. Williams has turned his passion for food, music, and cannabis into an Instagram brand with more than 2.2 million followers and a merch line with ZZZ’s Rolling Papers, which had a team in the tournament.
“I think now that it’s legal, the next chapter is to legitimize it. The regular person who enjoys cannabis is always going to enjoy cannabis, But it's time to get that in front of like, your soccer moms who are not really into it, but they're into their wine.”
“I’m just trying to normalize the daily use of it,” he added.
The event was also special for players on the 13 teams competing in the 3-on-3 tournament.
“We just came out here to enjoy the event and support the cause,” said Isiah Curiel, a recruiter for Jeeter who played on the brand’s team. “To be able to have a cannabis industry overall and we're in the Suns stadium, it goes to show the level of growing that the cannabis industry has had in the past years.”
Curiel’s team won the tournament, followed by Abundant Organics in second place and Trulieve in third.
“I have a passion for basketball and have been wanting to play in the Phoenix Suns stadium,” said Amein Ahmad, a liaison officer for Nirvana Center Dispensaries. “It’s an opportunity to come out here and support the charity as well.”