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John and Tyla Salley: Pivoting From the Court to Cannabis

The NBA is the only Big 4 league to embrace cannabis, even if that acceptance simply means turning a blind eye. It should be no surprise, then, that so many former NBA players have openly embraced cannabis. While it’s one thing to enjoy getting high or using cannabis medicinally, it’s another to invest your money in the industry—not to mention involving your family. Four-time NBA champion, talk show host, husband and father of three, John “The Spider” Salley, has done just that. Health and fitness have been the center of John’s message since before he left the league, publicly proclaiming his vegetarianism in 1999. As John says, “If you’re all about plants, and a plant-based diet, then you have to be about cannabis.” But his new company isn’t an example of yet another celebrity looking to slap their face on a box. John’s entrance to the cannabis space has been making waves, but he’s not going it alone.

Picking someone he knew he could trust, John has partnered with his daughter, Tyla. At twenty one years old, Tyla is the CEO of their joint venture, Deuces, and clearly the head honcho. With only a year under their belt as a company, John and Tyla have managed to draw tremendous attention around their upcoming product line, tirelessly sourcing the best product and running the weekend expo circuit. As a purveyor of fine cannabis, I was eager to meet up with these two to see how Deuces has come together.

When you’re interviewing a celebrity, there’s always an underlying nervousness. You really don’t know how you’re going to interact, or what their expectations are. And though everyone I’ve had the opportunity to work with has been nothing but pleasant, we’ve all heard the stories of the rich and famous. The last thing I needed to do was look bad in front of John Salley. Making Tyla and John feel right at home wasn’t hard, considering the forewarning we were given for working with John: have lots of food available! It’s no wonder, seeing as he’s not just a beast of a man, but a lifelong athlete that his appetite is equally as impressive as his reputation. Following his motto—“Eat what elephants eat”—the DOPE crew showed up proper with some delicious vegan food: mushroom “carnitas” mission burritos, Indian curry bowls with yams and lentils, and, of course, tons of greens. If there’s one thing we could bond over, it was good food and cannabis.


The Early Years

The “I started smoking tough when I was 14,” guy is definitely not John. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, in the seventies, John’s approach to life—not just cannabis—has been all about health. It makes sense, considering his past. He excelled in one of the most athletically-demanding sports for thirty years, and has maintained his fitness to the present day. Believe it or not, though he remembers seeing pot around, John didn’t even try cannabis until he was 36! After growing up in NYC, excelling through high school sports and later attending Georgia Tech—where he worked part-time, in addition to being a student athlete—John didn’t have much time for extracurricular activities. The NBA (and America at large) in the ‘80s and ‘90s wasn’t very friendly to cannabis, so neither was John. The health and wellness kick of the late ‘90s, however, was in full-swing, and John was all ears. Thanks to his teammate Adrian Dantley, John began to open his eyes to a new lifestyle, one based around food as fuel.

But basketball wasn’t John’s only love. “I wanted to be a late-night talk show host,” he shares. “It was like 1989, it was the All Star Game in Houston, [the show] Inside Stuff, it had just started—NBA TV was just blowing up. My man Don Sperling said uh, ‘Hey!’ and gave me a mic, and I took the camera crew through security. I said, ‘They’re alright,’ as if I [knew what I was doing], and I sat there right before the slam dunk contest . . . So that summer, we win the championship, so of course I grab the mic again, I wanna be in front of the mic. I just knew that was what I was going to do.” And boy, did he. Before finishing his professional basketball career he had roles in two major Hollywood films, Bad Boys and Eddie, which only further demonstrated his onscreen talents before solidifying his legacy as one of the hosts of Fox’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period.


Interviewing an On-Camera Pro

“Quiet on set,” John declares as we cue that we’re rolling. The 1908 Loft is a massive space with vaulted ceilings, where even the tapping of fingers against a cell phone can be heard across the room. To those unfamiliar with video production, John’s intensity could be misinterpreted as stern, but his rarely-concealed smile reminds everyone he’s simply professional to a T. All of our planning and preparation was about to pay off. As I hit John with the first question, Tyla’s still getting her makeup done off-set. With the accuracy of a seasoned professional, John keys in on me as if we’re the only two people in the room.

“Jay Z’s got Picasso’s—I got rigs,” he laughs. “I clean it like it’s an old war gun, and we put it back in a safe spot, because pretty soon when I do display it, it’s gonna be in a black room, all the lights are going to be on—it’s going to be an unbelievable art show. Hopefully no one touches the rigs. Hopefully. I don’t want anybody dead that night.”

“What was the hardest part in making the transition from basketball to television?” I begin. Your biggest fear as an interviewer is that your questions will fall flat; that all you’ll get is a “Yeah, sure” or “No,” but John jumps right in. He’s a story teller, an entertainer. “To me, it was easy,” John answers. Did I mention he was humble? As we continue, I can’t help but stifle my laughter. John’s jovial delivery falls somewhere between enjoying a great stand-up comic and hanging out with that one uncle who makes you laugh-cry every Christmas.

His dive into cannabis has been a successful one, to say the least. Canopy Growth Corp., Canada’s largest cannabis company, was John’s first investment experience in the industry. While he’s got a chunk of other canna-businesses, I can most relate to his favorite investments: glass. “I like the intricacy [of glass rigs], but I like when they involve iridescence, when they involve colors in glass, because a lot of people don’t understand [the complexity],” shares John, likening his passion for high-quality glass to collecting fine works of art. “Jay Z’s got Picasso’s—I got rigs,” he laughs. “I clean it like it’s an old war gun, and we put it back in a safe spot, because pretty soon when I do display it, it’s gonna be in a black room, all the lights are going to be on—it’s going to be an unbelievable art show. Hopefully no one touches the rigs. Hopefully. I don’t want anybody dead that night.”


The Father-Daughter Joint Venture: Deuces

“Tyla has always been on my hip since she was born,” John remarks, smiling. “She’s been my road dog since forever. The fact that she smoked cannabis and enjoys cannabis in all forms, I said, ‘We shouldn’t just smoke it, we should own it and be in the business with it.’ And that’s been it.” But creating a business—particularly as a father-daughter duo—is no joke. Starting out in the cannabis space is like throwing yourself (and your emotional stability) into hyperdrive. Most businesses don’t get beyond a concept in their first year, but Deuces has nailed down the essentials of their product procurement, marketing and packaging in that same amount of time. But don’t get it twisted—it’s not just John making it all happen.

“When we were talking about the pre-rolls,” remembers John, “[at] first they were in [a] tin, it was dope, it was great. And one day, on the phone, Tyla goes, ‘Nah, I don’t want that anymore’—the whole packaging! I thought I was working with Michael Kors or something, she just tripped out, woke up one morning and was like”—he mimes smoking, and stares off into space for effect—“‘You know what? Cars should be electric.’ And she changed the pre-roll.” But, as John concedes to Tyla, “You were right about the pre-roll!”

Their partnership is rooted in a shared passion for quality product and a drive to be the best at whatever they do. As Tyla emphasizes, “I was very, very, very particular about who grew [the cannabis], what paper we use, what filters we use, how it was rolled . . . ” The hurdles she faces are ones you might anticipate; she’s 21 and the daughter of a basketball legend. Everyone still sees her as “daddy’s little girl.” And, as Tyla admits, “I know I’m very fortunate in my opportunities,” but that in no way reduces her contribution to the company. If anything, seeing beyond her privileges adds to her worth. She sums it up best by stating, “I feel like Deuces is my opportunity to prove myself as a business woman, and as a company owner.” 

From NBA champion to talk show host, renowned health advocate and cannabis mogul, John Salley seems to have it all figured out. From what I can tell, his secret isn’t a secret at all—it’s what he’s professed for years: “I no longer wanted to be fed stuff. I [want] to literally make the best things for myself, for my family, and then pass that out [to the world].” That’s how he gets up and keeps hustling every day. Whether it’s a 15-year professional basketball career or diving head-first into one of the most aggressive markets since the tech boom, it’s his work ethic and family that carry him through. If you care about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, you’ll keep marching happily forward, and success will find you.