The Value of Viola

Al Harrington discusses his company’s partnership with Allen Iverson ahead of the new strain release.
Courtesy of Viola

There’s a lot of reasons to love Viola. Besides attracting consumers with their high-profile founder, the heart-warming story of the company’s origins or their extensive equity work with Viola Cares—these guys just make great products. Now in their 10th year of operation, today Viola is easily one of the most talked about brands in the cannabis industry, and one of the most popular in terms of sales too. With operations in six states and a licensing deal that will bring the brand into Canada, Viola has long been a shining example of cultural relevance driving sales in this burgeoning space.

Founded by former NBA first-round pick Al Harrington, who was drafted at 18 (as the 25th pick overall in the 1998 draft), Harrington isn’t your typical cannabis executive—even though he did play for most of the teams with names stoners would choose, like the Nuggets, the Magic and the Wizards. After suffering numerous injuries while playing professionally and having been prescribed countless pharmaceuticals to quell his pain, it wasn’t until after his career was over that he began to fully comprehend all the healing properties cannabis offered. The NBA didn’t look too kindly on the plant back then, after all. But after medicating himself, it was actually his grandmother’s relief that motivated him to build the company. She had been suffering from glaucoma for years, and cannabis was the first medication that brought her lasting comfort. He immediately realized the potential.

While the goal is of course to grow the business and provide as much access to the plant as possible, it’s important to note that this isn’t just some celebrity cash grab. On top of making quality products, Viola’s mission is to “increase minority participation and ownership in the cannabis industry while positively impacting and reinvesting into communities most affected by the war on drugs,” which is best illustrated through their expansive work with Viola Cares.

The brand’s latest release brings another NBA icon into the cannabis spotlight.

“The Answer” Has Joined the Team

Viola’s newest line was created in conjunction with NBA Hall of Famer, Allen Iverson. The frequent NBA All-Star (not to mention two-time All-Star Game MVP, a league-wide MVP and a Rookie of the Year award), on the other hand, is no stranger to the plant. Having gotten arrested for possession in 1997 while playing for the Philadelphia 76ers, just one year after joining the league, Iverson’s time in the limelight was often viewed through a critical lens. Although undoubtedly a monster on the court, with over 24,000 career points and being widely regarded as one of the best ball handlers ever, it was his antics off the floor that unfortunately made the biggest headlines. With a career that often had him considered the “bad boy” of the league back in the days of prohibition, it seems uniquely appropriate for this All-Star to lend his star power to championing the plant now that the tides are changing. “I couldn’t be happier to team up with my brother, Al, on this. I love what he’s doing and am excited to help share his mission in the cannabis space for our community,” Iverson said.

For Harrington and Viola though, as with their entire business, this is bigger than just a celebrity play. “The partnership with Chuck [Allen Iverson’s nickname] is the first of its kind in the industry. For us it’s more than just throwing his name on a bag or merch.” Harrington told High Times. “We really wanted to create a product he was proud of.”

And it looks like they’ve succeeded. Since its launch—whether it was at one of the several launch parties or from shares on social media, few hype launches get this kind of attention. But how’s it smoke?

Dubbed “‘96,” after Iverson’s rookie year in the league, the pilot cultivar is an indica-dominant cross between Grape Stomper and Secret Kush Mints, and it’s one that will put even the most experienced smoker down. With a vibrant, sweet and piney aroma punching out of the bag, the buds look just as attractive as they smell. The dense, dark purple—almost black—buds are absolutely covered in light trichomes, providing a gorgeous juxtaposition, especially paired with the bright orange hairs sprouting out from the seams.

These nugs are so sticky that you’ll be left with a residue after breaking up only your first nug, so you’ll want to use a grinder, and prepare for an even more impressive aroma once you start crushing buds up. The mint nose really presents itself once it’s been torn to shreds. In terms of the smoke, it’s hard to complain with this one. You’ll get the candy flavor you hope for on the pull, and the ash burns clean, but beware of the high. Unlike many imitators on the market, when these guys say something is an indica, you should take note. Don’t smoke the ‘96 too early, this one is a sleeper—like, Nate Robinson sleep.

*You can find this story in the January 2022 issue of High Times Magazine.

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