The truth may or may not set you free, but if Paul Pierce has his way, it will at least get you high.
The Celtic great and NBA champion told the Globe Monday he’s launching a line of recreational marijuana products in Massachusetts under the “Truth” brand, in partnership with marijuana operator The Hub Craft.
The deal will see Pierce’s Shaq-bestowed nickname appear on various edibles, concentrates, and cannabis lotions by the end of the year, with a signature strain of marijuana flower hitting local dispensary shelves in 2022.
“I have such a great connection with Boston,” Pierce said in an interview, “so I’m excited to bring the brand there first and educate people on the plant — how it can help in everyday life and also in sports and recovery.”
The announcement comes after ESPN (owned by family-oriented Disney) fired Pierce in April for live-streaming himself smoking what appeared to be marijuana, with exotic dancers twerking in the background. Afterward, he alluded on Twitter to “big things coming soon,” and later teased the Truth cannabis venture by posting a short video of himself in a room full of cannabis plants, adding to the media frenzy around his departure from the network.
Lost in the tabloid noise, Pierce said, is the truth about his relationship with cannabis: The drug helped save his career in the aftermath of a vicious stabbing at a Boston nightclub in September 2000, which nearly took his life and has shadowed him psychologically for years.
Pierce made a remarkably quick physical recovery from the assault, emerging from New England Medical Center just days later and assuring fans he couldn’t wait to get back on the court. “I’d just like to tell everybody I feel good,” he told the media at the time, wearing sunglasses over the scars left by a shattered bottle.
He did not feel good.
While Pierce willed his way to an impressive individual season, playing all 82 games on a middling Celtics squad, the attack left him paranoid, anxious, depressed, and maybe most of all, sleepless. He rarely socialized and avoided crowds, never quite feeling safe, he said. A police detail sat outside his home 24/7. Meanwhile, basketball elders and other critics publicly insinuated that Pierce had somehow invited the attack, chiding his lifestyle.
Pharmaceuticals prescribed by team doctors at the time didn’t work, were addictive, or put too heavy a load on his body, Pierce said, echoing the complaints of many people treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Athletes don’t even know what’s in these pills. The league doctors just say, ‘Take this, take that, here’s a prescription,’ ” Pierce said. “We get addicted to that stuff. It’s so harmful for your body. You don’t realize your liver and all your other organs are taking a pounding.”
Despite the league’s drug-testing policy at the time — the NBA stopped testing players for THC metabolites last year — Pierce turned to marijuana, which he had smoked occasionally since high school because it allowed him to sleep peacefully and wake up without feeling drugged.
“I was dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety and sleep issues — a lot,” he said. “So I really leaned more on cannabis. But it was difficult, man.”
“You really couldn’t do it while you were playing during the season because of the tests, but there were times I couldn’t even help it — I took an edible or smoked a joint just to get some sleep, and had to deal with the consequences. It was really bad for me early on,” he added.
Pierce said during his career, he would also consume regularly during summers when league-mandated testing paused. That’s easier to admit now, amid the spread of legalization laws and the increasing willingness of sports leagues to embrace the medical potential of marijuana.
“It’s a blessing that the world is finally catching up,” he said. “They don’t know what us athletes go through — our bodies and our mental state of mind.”
The Hub Craft, which has licensed cannabis growing and processing facilities in Fitchburg and Holyoke and has also signed deals with Whoopi Goldberg and Gary Payton, says it is in the process of developing an all-natural lineup of Truth products in close consultation with Pierce.
Far from being a rookie in the reefer business, the ex-Celtic has for years quietly co-owned a marijuana cultivation and processing business in California dubbed Western Green Mamba, which makes “white-label” cannabis products for retailers. (A separate 2019 attempt to launch a line of Truth CBD vapes appears to have fizzled.)
“We don’t just want a picture of an athlete on the box,” said Shivani Dallas, the company’s chief strategy officer. “We want substance behind what we’re doing.”
Beth Waterfall, a Boston-based cannabis marketing and events consultant, said celebrity deals in the sector work best when the star in question has a genuine connection to marijuana.
“When it’s Seth Rogan or Snoop Dogg, you buy it, you believe they’re putting forward a product they’d enjoy themselves or serve to their friends,” Waterfall said. “It’s authentic, and those are the types of arrangements that will be more enduring.”
Pierce likely passes that sniff test, Waterfall said. But he’ll still have to produce a quality product, she warned, and his brand may have more staying power in Massachusetts than elsewhere, especially as more former athletes join the burgeoning cannabis business.
“Retailers only have so much shelf space,” she said. “If the message of every athlete-backed product is the same — ‘It helped me after workouts or recover from an injury’ — at some point the market will get oversaturated.”