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Defense and Determination



Photo credit: John Gilhooey

[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap”]G[/dropcap]ary Payton played 18 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA), 13 of them in the cannabis-friendly state of Washington where he played for the now-defunct Seattle SuperSonics. His defense, trash-talking and unparalleled tenacity made him a perennial All-Star and led him to be enshrined in The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. Now, Payton is taking his talents to the equally competitive arena of cannabis, and there is little doubt that the skills that made him one of the all-time greats on the hardwood will help him prosper in the current green rush.

Payton entered the national consciousness when he started playing for Oregon State University (OSU). While there, he was a three-time All-Pac-10 selection, an All–American in 1990 and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He still holds school records for steals, assists and field goals, and he was inducted into the OSU Sport’s Hall of Fame in 1996.

After college, Payton was the second overall selection in the 1990 draft, going to The Seattle SuperSonics. He would end up spending much of his career in Seattle, and after the team departed for Oklahoma City, Payton has been steadfast in his desire to avoid having his number retired in the new city. The Oklahoma City Thunder, to the team’s credit, has not officially retired his number, and no former or current Thunder player has worn Payton’s number 20. Payton has also been active in the quest to return professional basketball to the Seattle, Washington area.

Nicknamed “The Glove” for his smothering and oppressive defensive ability on the court, his spunk and perseverance have led him to the world of cannabis. Payton launched CannaSports earlier this year, a venture focused on using cannabis to alleviate pain in a natural and effective manner without the harmful side effects and addictive nature of opioids.

The idea originated when Payton was looking for a way to help his mother manage her pain. Once he saw the results, he knew he needed to expand his scope. He did his homework and set his sights on helping to fix the massive pain epidemic that leads to opioid addiction. CULTURE caught up with the man himself and found that there is so much more to Payton than world-class basketball.

Photo credit: John Gilhooey

What is CannaSports?

Well, CannaSports is a company that I started about medical cannabis. My mom is very sick right now. To get everybody to understand that CBD and stuff like that is going to be good for ailing elderly people who get into it and get off of medication and harmful opioids. Get them on natural things so that they can try to start healing their bodies.


You’ve gained a name for being a very oppressive defensive player. Has that tenacity helped you off the court in ventures like CannaSports?

Absolutely. You know, when you have a passion for something . . . it’s just like me playing basketball. I had a passion for it. I had a drive for it. I had something to look forward to, because that was what my life was going to be about. Now that basketball is over, my life is going to be about trying to help people in other kinds of ways. And I think cannabis is going to be that way. Helping people with patches to aid them when they are recovering from injuries and stuff. My ability to be aggressive with everything that I do comes from basketball, and it’s trickling over now to cannabis.

“Now that basketball is over, my life is going to be about trying to help people in other kinds of ways. And I think cannabis is going to be that way.”

Photo credit: John Gilhooey

How do you think cannabis can help athletes out?

Recovery. There’s a lot of things that can go into athletes’ bodies to aid in their recovery from a long, physical season. Even if you are [a] person who has cancer and you’re going through a lot of pain, if you smoke some marijuana, it’ll make [you] relax and be joyful in times of feeling bad. Like my mom was really sick, and just the other day and I gave her an edible, and she laughed all day with me, which was great. You know what I’m saying? Even if we can’t cure the illness, you can still make them have an enjoyable time, not going through a lot of pain. The patches are great; they allow you to benefit from marijuana without having to smoke, or wait for an edible to kick in. Athletes play hard for a long period of time, and they can put on a patch. Now the stuff going through your body is natural. It makes you feel good. We’re not trying to say, major injuries or stuff like that can be cured by it, but it’s gonna make them feel better that they can get up, they can eat, they can try to rehab and do things on their own.


You recently said, “Be well, be pain-free, be informed.” I think the first two are pretty self-explanatory, but what would you like everyone to be informed about?

How [cannabis] can help you recover. How it can help you get through a situation of pain and things like that. Make you want to fight. I gotta say this stuff can make a person feel better and then fight the illness, or whatever you have in your body, to try to get it to go away. And that’s what I want them to do. I want people always in; you could be going through rough stuff and this stuff can help. We don’t know if we can’t help unless you try it, and that’s what I want them to understand.

“I don’t want anybody to abuse [cannabis]. I just want them to help themselves.”


Have you had any conversations with any players’ unions or Adam Silver at the commissioner’s office about trying to improve the perception of cannabis in professional sports?

Not yet. And I think that Adam Silver knows, but we have to really, really understand it first. Because you know, everybody still thinks marijuana is like a drug or something. So, I think commissioners, all the commissioners, they get it. They got to get it basically under control and understand it first. And I just got to put it in there. You’ve got to think it’s going to be safe for your sport to do it, and we’re not trying to push that right now, because that’s going to be a hard thing to do.


If you had to guess, what percentage of current NBA players or professional athletes use cannabis to help relieve pain or to help wind down?

Well, I don’t know. I think about 60-70 percent. I mean, you put a toll on your body like that, and doing things like that is really hard. And then if they find a solution that won’t hurt them and won’t jeopardize anything they have, and when it comes to cannabis then, yeah. You know, use it. I’m not against that. I mean, but don’t abuse it. I don’t want anybody to abuse it. I just want them to help themselves.

“Even if you are person who has cancer and you’re going through a lot of pain, if you smoke some marijuana, it’ll make them relax and be joyful in times of feeling bad.”


Photo credit: John Gilhooey

Are you a regular cannabis consumer?

No. I don’t have the feeling for it, because my body’s not tearing down. But as I’ve done research on it, I found out a lot of people have given it a thumbs up. So, as I do more and more research and do it, and then give it to my mom, give it to my brother and give it to people in my family, and they’re giving me a thumbs up. Then I know that it’s working.


With CannaSports, what’s the ultimate goal?

It will be considered a success with me, if I can get other athletes onboard with me, sign on with me. We get the message out to the world, and then we start showing people that this is not a drug to just smoke or get high. It’s really helping us. If I can put this around the United States, and I can help a lot of people that are suffering, I’ve got a win-win.

“If I can put this around the United States, and I can help a lot of people that are suffering, I’ve got a win-win.”

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