Former NBA Champ Matt Barnes is helping minority entrepreneurs thrive in the cannabis industry

The NBA vet tells us why he partnered with Eaze (California's largest legal cannabis marketplace) on the company's business accelerator program.


February 20, 2021

Matt Barnes spent 14 years in the NBA, including a championship season with the 2017 Golden State Warriors — his last year in the league. 

Since then, Barnes has been extremely active:

  • In media: He co-hosts (along with former NBA player Stephen Jackson) a very popular podcast series, All The Smoke.  
  • In business: Barnes is active in the cannabis space, as an investor in pre-roll company Seven Leaves and — recently — as an advisor to the board of directors at Eaze, California’s largest marketplace for legal cannabis.

With Eaze, Barnes oversees the company’s Momentum Program — a business accelerator for Black and brown entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry.

This year, 10 grant participants were selected and each received a $50k grant and a 12-week business development program led by industry experts, and support from Eaze’s business, marketing, legal, and PR resources. 

The Hustle recently spoke with Barnes to find out more about the program, his advocacy for cannabis and who he thinks is the real GOAT (MJ or Brady):

***

Hey Matt, could you tell our readers your interest in the cannabis industry? 

I’ve been a cannabis user since I was 14 years old. However, I never realized the benefits during my teen years. 

I’m not a drinker and don’t take prescription drugs but — during my playing career — cannabis really helped me tough through. 

There were a few times that I got in trouble with the NBA for using. But, when I spoke with the league’s office, I found out that 200 of the 450 players had gotten into some problem with cannabis use. 

This realization led to your advocacy work after you retired?

Yeah, in my post-career years, I’ve worked with my alma mater UCLA and the NBA Players Association to explain the benefits of cannabis use. 

With the Eaze Momentum program, I’m trying to help open doors for Black and brown cannabis founders. I’ve personally been affected by the War on Drugs, with my father going to prison for dealing. 

With the industry booming, I want to make sure people of color can be involved and build successful businesses. 

Is there a specific skill or lesson you are teaching the Momentum participants? 

It’s really everything. 

We’ve had situations before where minorities were awarded licences but not schooled on how to actually run a business. When this happens, they end up not building something sustainable and the license is taken back. 

I want to show them the A through Z of operating a cannabis business and open doors for them. 

Do you think cannabis will be legalized federally in the next 4 years? 

There is still a lot of educating to do. 

[Another former NBA player] Al Harrington is on calls with [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer trying to explain the space and the benefits of the plants. 

Legal cannabis will be very beneficial for [city and state budgets]. I do think it will happen by 2024. 

Without full legalization, are there other steps you’d like to see? 

Cannabis entrepreneurs need to be able to bank securely. Hopefully, they can pass a bill so that banks will be open to the industry. 

Related to this is the fact that there is a lack of capital for minority entrepreneurs. This is why, after Eaze’s 12-week program, participants get a $50k grant.

Are you interested in other industries that could make a social impact? 

Everything starts where you lay your head, so I’m also working to improve low-income housing across the country. 

With your media career taking off, how do you see the change from when you first started in the league vs. the ability now to speak directly to the audience? 

In my playing days, if I did something wrong, it could end up on the front page of a newspaper and — even if the story is a lie — it would be the only thing people saw. 

Even if I commented on it, the rebuttal would get a tiny fraction of the front page coverage.

With the podcast, I’ve been able to tell my story. Not letting other people — who haven’t necessarily walked in my shoes — tell the story. 

All The Smoke is successful because we have no hidden agenda. We’re not trying to make clickbait. We are being real, giving other athletes a safe space to speak and the fans like it. 

Do you have any business heroes?

You know, I spent 15 years in the league, including time with the Lakers and Clippers [both based in LA]. I also went to UCLA and the city is a great place for business. 

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of doors opened for me and have met some very influential business people like Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and David Krane, [the head of Google’s venture arm GV].

A lot of athletes think because they’ve been successful in one industry, they can just jump over to another one and do well. You need people to learn and lean on.

Thanks for the time Matt. One last question before we go: who’s the GOAT, Michael Jordan or Tom Brady?

I gotta go with MJ. It’s tough to argue against Mike. Brady did win 7, but he also lost a few.

MJ has 6 rings and went 6-0 in the Finals. I gotta go with Mike. 

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