Al Harrington is a retired NBA star who played 16 seasons of pro basketball – and went on to a thriving second career as the founder of Viola, a cannabis company dedicated to promoting social equity by increasing minority participation in the cannabis industry. Michele Harrington is a culture influencer, proud mama of four, and Foria’s Head of Strategic Partnerships.
And as part of our month-long celebration of Black love and pleasure, we were thrilled to sit down with Al and Michele for a candid chat about their unique perspective on family, business, intimacy, and plant medicine.
Foria: What’s the most important thing to know about Al and Michele, and your relationship?
Al: I think I chose to marry a woman that definitely pushes me in all aspects of my life. From being a husband first, to [being] a parent, professionally, I think she holds me to a standard that puts me in a position where I'm always trying to get better, you know what I'm saying? Just trying to do an overall better job at being a better human being, across all those different verticals I just mentioned.
She's obviously my soulmate, she's my best friend. I’d die for her. I know a lot of people say that, but I literally would. Like when I pray at night, I pray that any pain for my wife or my children, that I can take it on. It can all land on me, if God has showed that to me or allowed that to happen, I would. I would take that.
So I think that the most important thing about us is that we really love each other. And another thing I say about her is that I know how loyal she is. Even if I was dead wrong, as long as it's not towards her, if it's anybody else in the world, she’s gonna act like I was dead right. And just knowing that you got somebody like that, that’s got your back and is supporting you at all times, it just makes everything that I do a lot easier.
Michele: I think what I would want people to know about us is that we’re family-based. Family first. Even as far as business goes, it's the home first. We make every decision based on how it's going to benefit us as a family first, and then business second. And we're a family unit.
I've been supporting him and his endeavors, and things that he wants to pursue. And he's always pushing me, he's always encouraging me. Even now that we have Foria, and it's something that I'm so passionate about, he's the one who was like “You know, I think you need to go for this, I think you need to do this, you'd be great at this.”
So he's always encouraging me. Now that the kids are getting bigger, I want to be a part of something that is going to light my fire. And, you know, he sees how passionate I am about Foria. And he's always been encouraging, where if I need to do something, he's there to watch the kids and fill in those gaps so that I can be successful.
You’ve been together since you were 19! That's not a common thing to hear about these days, both the longevity and the dedication and devotion that you both talk about. How did you meet?
Michele: Friends brought me to a pool party, that I was against. “It's raining outside, no one wants to go to a pool party!” And they're like “Just come, just come.” And that's where I met Al. He had on socks in the hot tub, because he was embarrassed – you stop and go as an athlete, you get black toes, green toes, all of the above. And so he had on socks, and that's what sparked the conversation.
After he came out, I stopped him and was like, “Why did you have on socks in the hot tub?” And that's how it happened.
And it's so funny. This is the hoarder that I am – I still have the paper that he wrote his number down on from 1999. It's his old email address, his pager number, his home phone number, the landline. And that's how it started. And then we just kept in contact ever since.
At the time I was working for my cousin. I would upload this Black newspaper to the internet every night. And I would also build websites with her. So that's how the conversation started flowing. He's like “well, could you build me a website?” And then we just kept in contact, since I had every number for him, so there was no room for error. And then we made it a long-distance relationship. I was away at school, and I would go to see him one one to two times a month.
Al: And that's the story of how we met. She approached me!
Michele: I'm never gonna live that down.
Al: She found any excuse she could, actually –
Michele: He already had eyes on me! His friend really wanted to talk to me, but…
Al: The point is, I was the catch. So yeah, she caught me!
How did I know? I’ll be honest, I never knew. I don’t believe in that love-at-first-sight thing. I think that we grew into loving each other. And I think our love really grew off of a lot of the pain, different issues that we had, and that we could get past them.
Being that age – I mean, we were kids. We were 19 years old, and we've been together for 21 years now. I didn't know who I was or what I was, and neither did she, and for us to be able to continue to grow and evolve, and have this last, and feel like it was gonna be forever, was just one of those things.
And I think that, for me, that's how I knew. No matter what we went through, we could always find common ground and come back and be able to sit and get through it and be able to laugh again.
I've seen a lot of relationships being a professional athlete, players with their high school sweethearts, and you see, four or five years into a career, where they don't even laugh or joke or hang out. For us, we never ever got to that point, we've just always been able to continue to move forward together. And take every situation as a learning situation, and grow from it, and make each other better.
Obviously, if you're 19, you don't know how your whole life's gonna go at all. But did you have an idea about the sort of path you were on as a couple, how you would be interconnected the way you are in your business and personal endeavors? Or did you make it up as you went along?
Al: Yeah, we I think we were way too young to know that. When you're young, you obviously have a lot of visions and aspirations and different things like that. But once you start living life, you realize what you can actually accomplish and what you can't.
And I think that one of the main things was for a while we wanted kids early. And it took us a while. There was a while where we were like, “we might not be able to have kids. What the heck is going on?” And once again, I think that that was another moment for us growing, our love growing for each other, you know what I'm saying?
And I can go deep. Once we did get pregnant, we had a miscarriage.
Michele: Pretty far into it. 17 weeks?
Al: That's pretty hard, and we were literally right there together the entire time. And realizing that we had nobody but each other at that time. No matter how much money we had, no matter how many cars and houses and all this, none of that mattered at that moment. All we had was us, you know what I'm saying? So, I think that things like that, that's why I say I think pain was what allowed love to really grow.
This one's for Al. How do you have it all? Because you have your family, you've now had two successful careers, you managed to juggle all these things together. And when people ask women this question, it's presented as being a superhuman feat. So what are your favorite ways to balance everything in your life that you need to balance?
Al: I'm one of those people – you got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. My work ethic is my main thing. Anything I'm passionate about, I'm willing to go to the ends of the earth to make it happen.
And as much as athletes say “family is first” and all that, your career is first. There's no way around it, because the job asks so much of you. For the most part, it was always basketball first. Then it was my family. But once I was retired, then I could change. Now I'm in control.
Right now I have the wealth, now I have the options, where I can do whatever I want to do. And at that point for me it was like “okay, now I really get to focus on my family.” I've really got to focus on the example I set for my children, because I don't have as much time to really be with them hands-on, like their mom. I call her Superwoman. I don't know how she does it.
Now, because of social media and having girls that are pretty hip to everything, they watch everything that I do. So I have to find a way to do everything with style and grace. And with integrity, which is the main thing. That's the main thing we try to teach our kids, is to have integrity first. Because that's really what makes you who you are.
So we try to practice that, me and Michele, in everything that we do on a day-to-day basis. And now, for me, the priority is family first, then it's our business, and thank God we’re in a position that we can have it that way. And we're just trying to continue to both build our family, and also build our businesses.
Michele, how did things change for you when Al retired from the NBA?
Michele: It was a big adjustment, going from someone being away, at eighty-two games a season, to having someone front and center. He's always had Viola, so it was a seamless transition as far as work goes, but he was home a lot more.
And then we made the move to California when he retired.
Then the business kicked into high gear–
Michele: So then it's traveling all over again. But you know, I find some comfort in that, because it's what I'm used to. I think for us that works, because we're not in each other's space all the time. It makes life new and exciting. And it's not repetitive, like he goes and works a nine-to-five and comes home. I will take quality over quantity any day. So when he’s present, he's present, he's involved. And it just makes for an interesting life.
How did you get into the cannabis industry? Why are you passionate about this plant and this medicine?
Al: [Viola’s] all-around purpose is about educating, empowering, and uplifting communities of color through cannabis. We address a lot of the issues in the industry, but then we’re also dope as a company. So I think that that's the reason why we've had this success.
Michele: We originally got into the business because of Al’s grandmother. In 2011, when Al first started to have interest in cannabis, I was like “you don't even smoke!” But he saw the potential for growth early. He's always ahead of the trends, I must admit.
So he had read somewhere that cannabis could help with glaucoma. And his grandmother happened to be visiting us. And she was complaining about her eyes hurting her, and saying that she hadn't been able to read the words in her Bible in over a year. And she was up for whatever Al had proposed.
At first, she was like, “What is this you’re talking about? Reefer?” You know, cause she's old-school. So she was reluctant. But then the next day he came home from practice. And she was like, “at this point, I would do just about anything to relieve this pain”.
And so he vaped it for her. And after about an hour or two, right before he left for his game, he went and checked on her. And she had tears in her eyes, and she was reading her Bible. And I think that touched him in such a way that he knew this was plant-based medicine, and it had way more beneficial things than it had harmful things. And I think that is what set us on the course for Viola which is the name of the company – after his grandmother.
You have four kids. For anyone who has kids, especially in a long-term relationship, what are some of your tools for keeping passion and that deep connection alive and supported?
Michele: I think making time for each other, no matter what. It may change from time to time, but at one point it was having date night once a week. Because at the end of the day, when the kids are grown up, and they're out of the house, all you have is each other, and if you don't like that person, or even know that person, it's gonna end in separation. Or you may get to know that person and realize, “Hmm, I don't really want to be with them.”
It takes work. No matter what's going on in our lives, we have to take time for ourselves. If that means sneaking away for a quickie, or just texting a sexy picture. You have to keep the lines of communication open. And you have to know the other person, so you know what he's lacking. You've been together that long, you should know those little cues. Like, “okay, I gotta make time for him.”
Al: Just trying to figure out a way to keep it fresh and exciting. Just as recently as last week, I was up one night, and she fell asleep on me. And I was just up, and I was ordering all kinds of trashy lingerie. And when it came, she was sitting on the phone talking to a friend, and I just handed it off to her.
So, it's just little things like that. I realized that our relationship should be at that point, that's how we should be able to interact with each other at all times. Maybe I'll be feeling some type of way one day, and then maybe it's her another day, but us being comfortable enough to just be like “Look, all right, this is how I feel, let's go.” Or send a text message while I'm at the office, like “look, when I come home tonight, make sure you have Foria by the bed,” you know what I'm saying? Just grow it and build it from there.
And how did you find Foria?
Al: I think it was probably 2018 in Vegas, at MJBizCon. And one of the founders handed me a bottle [of Awaken]. So I looked at it. And I was like, “What is this? Intimacy oil? And it does this, that and the third?” I'm like, “yeah, whatever. It’s been 20 years, there's no way my wife’s gonna like me any more than she likes me now.” But I came home, and that was the first time I introduced it to her.
Michele: I was like, “I don't know about that. Where did you get it from? Who was it from?” I didn't know enough about it. And I started to Google it and see that oh, there's amazing benefits, and it's not going to change my pH because that's a big thing with me. And then we used it. And at first I didn't know how to use it, it was just kind of trial and error. So I think the first two times that I used it I didn't give it enough time to absorb, but that third time, wow. Wow.
Al: We had some conversations where people were just raving about it. [A friend] was like, “yo, every time I come to LA, I get about four or five bottles to take to my friends back in Atlanta, you know what I'm saying?” So that was when we were like, “yo, we need to use this again.” And then, obviously, we got into a nice little rhythm with it.
[Foria] is a natural fit, because we promote a healthy lifestyle, right? And Foria is a lifestyle product. And I love how Michele explains it – first thing women say is “well, I’m wet all the time, I don't need nothing!” You start breaking down all the other reasons why Foria helps, even though you got that wet wet, you know what I'm saying? It just makes a lot of sense. And I think that's what a lot of people are gonna start to realize, and gravitate towards this product. Because it's something that every woman in the world should experience at least once. And we feel like this is such a high-quality product that all we got to do is try it.
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