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Former NBA Star John Salley Discusses Diet & the Dank

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This week, our January 2017 issue hits newsstands. Check out the feature “A Higher Level of Fitness” by Mark Miller, which provides an overview of the fitness benefits from cannabis use.

Of course, overall health is greatly affected by diet. So we asked former NBA star John Salley to weigh in on the subject.

John is a 15-year NBA veteran, the first NBA player to win four championships with three different teams. After his retirement, John has gone on to become a successful entertainment personality, hosting sports talk shows and radio programs, as well as appearing in films like Bad Boys 1 & 2 and Confessions of a Shopaholic.

As a wellness advocate, one of John’s main missions in life is to continue to educate people on the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle through better eating habits. He also makes no secret of his cannabis advocacy and his belief in its effects on good health.

So John, what’s up?
I should be on the cover. Let me tell you why. Number one, you’ve never had me on the cover.

That’s true.
Two, I’m black. That’s in style 2016.

We’ve had two black people on the cover so far this year.
Two, damn! [Laughing] There goes the neighborhood!

We had a Jamaican girl on our April cover and Wiz Khalifa was on our August cover.
Yeah, that’s a good cover. But the difference between them and me is I started smoking weed in my last month as a Laker.

Not until then?
Not until then. My brothers sold it, my brothers smoked it, my brothers introduced me to it, but I didn’t do any kind of marijuana until then.

Why was that?
Because I was brainwashed. My best friend had got murdered – Lloyd Harrison. He and this kid had been smoking. The only way I looked at it then was he wasn’t in his right mind before killing Lloyd. But I realized it wasn’t the marijuana that made him kill Lloyd; it was where we lived—what the environment was.
But I’ll tell you why I should be on the cover. I’m willing to put my beliefs out there. There are brothers in jail for joints. It’s the number one thing to put a brother in jail for.

I’m watching Viceland and I see 1 million square feet of marijuana growing and there are guys sitting in jail? Incarceration, I think, is modern-day slavery. With no military draft, you gotta fill these prisons with these young, uneducated guys. It’s another reason we should push this legalization. It will change everything.

What was it like in those last few weeks as a Laker when you started smoking? Did you think, damn what have I been missing?
It was the last month. I was in Sacramento, literally right in front of the Governor’s mansion. I smoked this joint and my left leg started feeling like my right leg. I’m big into yoga and the next thing you know I’m doing yoga positions. I’m stretching, my back isn’t hurting, my neck isn’t hurting and I hadn’t even warmed up!

When I retired and got my feet operated on, I couldn’t take Vicodin. I was on the Best Damn Sports Show Period on Fox and I took it before it before going on air because I was in pain. Every question I was asked took like a minute to answer.

I took Vicodin one other time in 1993. I was getting my eyes operated on, before Lasix, when they used a scalpel. I couldn’t take Vicodin again, so I had to deal with the pain. My doctor said maybe I should get a medical marijuana license. At first we giggled, but then I got it. From that point on, I’ve been an advocate.

Every NBA player and especially football players should have it for the post-traumatic syndrome, the stress that athletes are under. People don’t realize these guys play their life out, but what do they do afterward? How do you come down off of that energy? If an athlete goes to a bar and drinks, he’s intensifying the energy he already has. What he needs to do is figure out a way to get his body to relax, get his mind to slow down and allow him to be still.

If you have a thoroughbred and he runs a great race, would you take him for a drink? No, you massage him, you wash him and you put him away. You give him something to eat and let him rest. When I got involved with cannabis, it became my unbelievable idea of rest. I’m an entirely caring, conscious person. I just relax more now – and I see things.

Tell us about life in the NBA.
I crafted an unbelievable career. In Detroit with the Pistons, I was maybe the sixth or seventh or eighth man off the bench. But you wouldn’t know that if you watched the game. The reason we won is [Coach] Chuck Daly knew how to play eight and nine people. I played more than the starters.

Former NFL players say pharmaceuticals were readily available during their careers. Is that the case in the NBA?
Pharmaceuticals are prevalent everywhere. But I think in the NBA, I would say they were prevalent because you had a doctor administering them to you. Then there’s Tylenol or Advil. I took three in the morning when I woke up, two when I’m brushing my teeth. Get to practice, I take two Advil. After practice—two Advil. I mean Alonzo Mourning said he was up like eight Advil a day.

That’s getting into overdose territory.
Exactly. When I left Advil alone, my life changed.

Many people think of basketball as a non-contact sport, but that’s not true. How hard is it on the body?
NBA ball players die young — like nine in the past 18 months. We die before 60 and it’s heart-related. A lot of guys have irregular hearts from being so tall, being big. But it’s also due to eating animal fat. The fat is in the meat and it sticks in the blood; it slows the blood. Then all of a sudden the heart attack starts. I think it’s going to turn out to be a situation, like concussions. You literally need to break down the fats in the blood, get more oxygen into the blood. We need to be teaching them more about it.

How did you become so focused on your diet?
It was 1991, my fifth year in the league. I had a bad breakup with a girl and needed to change my life. I’m 25, 26 and going to acupuncture and massage therapy because I thought I had a bad back. Then I met a lady named Dr. Jewel Pookrum. She had a wellness center in the middle of Detroit and I got my first colonic. I found out that I had a compacted colon. My back muscles were fine, but I had a dehydrated colon, which was causing a ton of problems. Taking all that Advil everyday had dehydrated me. I was constantly making myself sicker, not realizing how to make this body work.

I started reading about macrobiotics. From macrobiotics, I started paying attention to raw food and vegan food. So I became a lying vegetarian. I cut out the most of chicken, most of turkey. Then in 2008, I did a PSA for PETA. It was a trip! I stopped being a lying vegetarian that day. So in 2008, I changed.

Is it hard to be a vegan in this country?
No, because in this country, we’re still built on competition. The faster you are, the slimmer you are, the more appealing you are, the more work you can continue to get.

How do other athletes respond to you when you talk about diet?
Most guys don’t know how to eat and teams don’t tell you how to eat. When you make it in the NBA, you’re gonna try to be cool, you’re gonna go to dinner, gonna get chicken Parmesan or lobster or lobster tail, shrimp. And you eat hamburgers, cheeseburgers, French fries. When you get up in the morning and you eat eggs, some bad fruit. You drink milk or have orange juice, which is 100 percent sugar. You put all this in your body and you think you’re having a hearty meal. But your body’s insides are going: “What do I do with this?”

Because it’s not fuel. I try to teach players what fuel really is and when I teach them what fuel is, then they can be the rocket they need to be. I say, “You’re a Ferrari, I’m going to put high-octane food inside you.”

It’s called what “conscious eating.” People eat breakfast and lunch, and dinner, but it’s a prison mentality. It’s a military mentality. “Eat this in the morning, this in the afternoon, this at night.”

You don’t have to live that lifestyle. People live their life on the go. The best way to eat better is to stop, slow down, and eat consciously. Doc Rivers [coach of the L.A. Clippers] is allowing me to come in and work with some of the players mentally and physically. It’s so funny, because a lot of guys don’t know how to act in restaurants. They’ve never been out, so when they do, they’ll go to a steak restaurant because it’s easy.

“Alright give me a steak!”

“Well, would you like prime cut, New York, or the filet mignon?”
The kid sits there and goes: “I wanna a big piece. Give me the filet. Yeah, yeah, give me the filet.”

So every time he goes out, he has the filet, because it makes him feel like he knows what to do in a restaurant.

Eating right naturally shrinks your body, because there’s nothing in your lower intestines. Your sex drive is higher because there’s nothing in your lower intestines except blood. Then guys start to pay attention. When they start feeling better, when all of a sudden they’re not waking up antsy or can’t sleep and have lots of energy because they sleep all the way through, they start saying: “Man, there’s something to this.”

I have to explain that we should eat as humans. If we were in dire straights and there was absolutely nothing else to eat, then, yeah, definitely, go have some meat. But otherwise, why would you eat meat free willingly? Why would you choose it when there are such better choices for your health and well-being?

Visit johnsalley.com.

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