Why Paul Pierce jumped on the CBD train

On September 25, 2000, Paul Pierce was stabbed 11 times, in the face, neck, and back, at a Boston nightclub. The NBA star was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he underwent emergency lung surgery. Two men went to jail for the attack.

Miraculously, Pierce returned to the court just a few months after the stabbing to start the season. But his internal wounds lasted much longer. Pierce suffered from intense anxiety, depression, and PTSD. He hired 24-hour security to guard his home and couldn’t be around large crowds. The harrowing experience led him on a journey to find relief for his symptoms beyond the addictive meds his doctors prescribed.

Eventually, Pierce discovered CBD, which offered a natural path to healing. After playing 19 years in the league, Pierce, who is also known by the nickname “the Truth,” has begun a new career as cofounder (with Elliot Mermel) and president of The Truth CBD Remedies and Vesper, a vape product (available through Eaze Wellness).

Here’s how he went from being unaware of CBD to a CBD entrepreneur.

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On being stabbed multiple times

“It really did damage, not only the pain of the stab wounds, but dealing with post-traumatic stress and anxiety. Then having to go out and play ball every single day of my life. I got addicted to pain medication for my back and knees, and sleep medication for my sleep apnea. I had no clue about the marijuana plant or even CBD at the time. I didn’t understand what else was out there for me, because when you’re in sports, there are so many banned substances you’re not allowed to take.”

When he first discovered CBD

Coming from Los Angeles, where medical cannabis was legalized in the ’90s, Pierce had friends who grew it in their garage. He says, “It started off with a friend giving me topicals and pills derived from CBD, and I was like, ‘Man, this stuff is pretty good. Where does this come from?’ Still, I wouldn’t use CBD during the season as much as I did in the off-season.”

Why he started his own company

“There are so many products out there, and you don’t really know which ones are giving you what they actually say they’re giving you. I was just like, Why don’t I go out and try to start my own line, being that I have a trusted platform among my fans? I’m not just somebody trying to make a quick dollar. I wanted to tell people, ‘This is what I use, and it actually works. Look at what I’ve been through, and these are the changes I’ve been able to make in my life with CBD.’ So I started my own company. I bought a 10,000-square-foot building where we grew our own flower, took the trim, and developed our own oil. This is not me outsourcing and slapping my name on a product. This is coming from a facility that I own.”

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Origin of “The Truth”

“In the early 2000s, we played against the Lakers and I wound up having a huge game. Later, Shaq told the reporters, ‘Man, I knew this guy could play. I didn’t know he could play this good.’ He said, ‘This guy is the motherfucking truth.’ [Laughs] They printed it in the paper the next day, and from then on it stuck.”

Image Credit: Courtesy of Airmyth Supply Company, LLC

How Pierce met his business partner, Elliot Mermel

Mermel, a New England native, was stuck in an L.A. traffic jam and decided to stop at a hookah lounge to blow off some steam and watch March Madness. At the time, Mermel had a cannabis fertilizer company and was making topicals in his kitchen. “It was just me at the bar, and at around 1 p.m., Paul walked in. I was like, Man, that dude looks shockingly similar to Paul Pierce,” Mermel says. When he realized it was Paul Pierce, he got up the courage to approach him. “I just congratulated him on an illustrious career.”

The subject of CBD oils came up. “He had a vape pen with him, and I was asking where he got it from,” Pierce recalls. The two started joking with each other about starting their own vape pen company. “I was like, ‘Let’s put some CBD in it.’ ” They exchanged numbers, and a friendship blossomed. Pierce says: “He lived, like, 10 minutes from me, so I was like, ‘We should meet up and have a conversation about some of the stuff you’re doing. Let me see some of your ideas.’ ” The two found themselves playing lots of chess, talking about strategy. “Then it just kind of clicked from there.”

Says Mermel, “We would make a mind map of what was wrong with the industry, what kind of complaints we heard, what we wished there would be in the industry, and attacked it from the problem to create the solution.” He says they realized that “the celebrity aspect of Paul is the draw, but to gain that customer retention and trust, we really had to deliver a premium product. From the get-go, the ethos was that the celebrity will draw the customer in, and a superior product will retain that customer.”

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The biggest challenge

Pierce is used to facing formidable opponents, and cannabis was no different. “There’s a lot of competition in the field, and you’ve got to earn people’s trust. We traveled to China numerous times modifying our product, dealing with people who say they’re going to do something they don’t always do. Elliot gets down about this, and I try to get him up. [Laughs] But that’s the challenge of a new business. You need to continue to be positive. Things will turn around. Things aren’t going to always go your way at first. You’ve got to continue to surround yourself with people who work just as hard as you, people who share the same vision as you, positive people, and keep putting in the work. Eventually, it’ll turn around. You can’t get discouraged.”

How business is like sports

After competing on championship teams in high school and college, Pierce played in the NBA for five seasons on losing teams. “Sports always provides life lessons,” he says. “You’re going to have your trials and tribulations. Once you step into the highest level, you hit some road bumps where you’re not the best. There’s competition.

“Just because I’m Paul Pierce doesn’t mean people are going to respect me or are going to trust me and my product. I’m still coming into a new industry. You’ve got to re-earn that trust.”

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This article originally appeared on entrepreneur.com

Jonathan Small