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Shawn's Hemp: Former NBA All-Star Kemp enters pot business

The line stretched down the block, around the corner and snaked into the alley on the back side of the street. Most people were wearing green and gold. All of them were there for a glimpse, maybe an autograph and maybe some product to take home.

Even 23 years after he last played for the Seattle SuperSonics, Shawn Kemp can still manage to draw a crowd, even at lunchtime on a Friday in the midst of a pandemic.

This time it was for his latest business venture, partnering with and lending his name to the first of what he hopes is a franchised line of cannabis dispensaries. Along with his name on the front of the building and a large mural on the side, the dispensary called Shawn Kemp's Cannabis comes with the additional novelty of being just a couple blocks away from the building where Kemp became an All-Star with the SuperSonics in the 1990s and where he hopes to see the NBA return one day.

An artist who goes by the name "Weirdo" puts the finishing touches on a giant mural on an outside wall of Shawn Kemp's Cannabis, the marijuana dispensary owned by Shawn Kemp, a former NBA basketball player for the Seattle SuperSonics and several other teams, and other business partners, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, prior to the store's grand opening in downtown Seattle. (AP PhotoTed S. Warren)

Kemp said he never imagined when he was leading the Sonics, one of the best teams in the NBA in the mid-1990s, that a player would ever have his name across the front of a marijuana shop.

“If you had asked me to do this when I was playing, probably not. But I think things change as we go and business as we know will also change. And that’s what I did throughout the years,” Kemp said. “I don’t know if there’s a cool way to promote and to do cannabis, but I think here we’re going to be able to do that in a positive and professional manner.”

Kemp is a partner in the project with Main Street Cannabis, which operates three other dispensaries in Washington state. The company initially claimed it would be the first Black-owned dispensary in Seattle, but later backed off those claims.

Shawn Kemp, center, a former NBA basketball player for the Seattle SuperSonics and several other teams, cuts the grand-opening ribbon for Shawn Kemp's Cannabis, the marijuana dispensary he owns with several business partners, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in downtown Seattle. (AP PhotoTed S. Warren)

Still, Kemp hopes it can be a business example for the Black community. The first store had 35 employees on the first day, with plans to reach 40.

“Marijuana has been part of the Black community forever. This is putting a positive spin on it,” Kemp said.

Kemp was joined in opening the store by former Seattle teammate Gary Payton, whose cannabis cookies with his name on the front were available for sale inside. Payton wore a SuperSonics face covering with “Glove” embroidered on the front.

Fans and customers wait outside Shawn Kemp's Cannabis, the marijuana dispensary owned by Shawn Kemp, a former NBA basketball player for the Seattle SuperSonics and several other teams, and other business partners, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, prior to the store's grand opening in downtown Seattle. (AP PhotoTed S. Warren)

Kemp was arrested twice in the early 2000s on drug charges, including marijuana possession. He said the change in how marijuana is viewed by the NBA now is part of an evolution on the overall view of cannabis.

“I think we’re finding out the cannabis to be valuable to us in a lot of different ways, whether it be through medicine or to athletic skills,” Kemp said. “And I think that’s why you see the NBA bending their rules and I think you’ll see several other leagues probably do the same.”

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Shawn Kemp, left, a former NBA basketball player for the Seattle SuperSonics and several other teams, is joined by his former teammate and basketball Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton, right, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the grand opening of Shawn Kemp's Cannabis, the marijuana dispensary he owns with several business partners in downtown Seattle. (AP PhotoTed S. Warren)

Shawn Kemp, center left, a former NBA basketball player for the Seattle SuperSonics and several other teams, hugs his former teammate and basketball Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton, center right, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, after Kemp cut the ribbon for Shawn Kemp's Cannabis, the marijuana dispensary he owns with several business partners in downtown Seattle. (AP PhotoTed S. Warren)