Former NBA center David Harrison is trying to assist legal marijuana businesses
The 2004 first-round pick wants to make banking better for cannabis retailers
It didn’t take David Harrison long to realize he was out of place as a McDonald’s restaurant employee 10 years ago.
The 7-footer, only a few years removed as an NBA first-round pick by the Indiana Pacers, struggled to make eye contact with customers.
“I couldn’t even take orders in the drive-thru window because of my height,” Harrison said. “I’m standing there and people are literally talking to my crotch. I wasn’t made for that world.”
Harrison’s stint with McDonald’s lasted for only two days, but it provided him with brief employment once his four-year NBA career ended due to several circumstances: his participation in the “Malice in the Palace,” a clash with his coach, and a league suspension due to marijuana use.
Despite financial woes that led him to the fast-food chain, a bout of depression, and a few years in China, Harrison has rebounded with a venture he hopes will transform the legalized marijuana industry’s banking challenges.
Harrison and co-founder Chris Yim teamed up with former state Rep. Dan Donovan (New York House representative from 2015 to 2019) to form Token HiFi, which will offer marijuana businesses a digital asset and exchange platform to facilitate and secure financial deposits and transactions.
Donovan, Token HiFi’s chairman, joined after conversations with Harrison.
“David’s very passionate and he believes in what he’s doing,” Donovan said. “He’s come up with something for people who are licensed to do what they’re doing, and they just don’t have the ability to use traditional methods of financing.”
Token HiFi, expected to be launched this year, is designed to help the cannabis industry. The possession and distribution of marijuana is illegal at the federal level, and many financial institutions won’t allow cannabis dispensaries to make cash deposits. Token HiFi is one of many financial services for cannabis retailers, but Harrison points out several differences.
“We’re the only one with the essential combination of proprietary technology and regulatory legitimacy,” Harrison said. “Currently, any bank who tries to support the industry in a traditional way will run afoul of federal law. What is worse, is keeping so much of the industry on a harmful and exploitative black market.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked in January if President Joe Biden will resolve the banking issue for state-legal cannabis businesses. She said it’s something Congress is working on.
“I’m essentially creating a cannabis bank,” Harrison said. “My system is easy. You log in and you sign up.”
Here’s how it will work: Once a customer contacts Token HiFi, it will pick up the company’s cash and submit it into its Digital Authorization Verification Operating system. Harrison said a reliable encrypted utility token will act as a value store and medium of exchange.
The coins can be used to pay, transfer or exchange funds with other businesses. Harrison said customers will be able to receive the value of their coins at any time.
“It’s what this industry needs to become more viable for the small-time producer,” Harrison said. “For example, if an individual company needs to raise money, they can’t get a loan from a bank. And if you’re not associated with venture capital money or private equity money, you have to sell your license. And if another company buys [all of the licenses up], it’ll create a monopoly.”
Harrison’s rookie season unfortunately began with a bang when he was part of the brawl that took place in 2004 at The Palace in Auburn Hills, in Michigan, between the Pacers, Pistons and several fans. Harrison was not suspended by the NBA because he went into the stands during the brawl, but he received a year of probation, a small fine and 60 hours of community service.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was fired three years later and replaced by Jim O’Brien. The change didn’t benefit Harrison. He said he and O’Brien did not get along and the combustible relationship led to Harrison smoking marijuana regularly, including before and after practices. The NBA suspended him for five games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
“At the time, the NBA wasn’t even testing for HGH,” said Harrison, whose father Dennis played for 10 seasons in the NFL. “So I can take a bunch of steroids and cheat, but I can’t smoke weed. Those guys were on the wrong side of history, but that wasn’t a conversation they wanted to have.”
No one signed Harrison once he became a free agent after the 2007-08 season, which led to him playing four seasons in China, eight games in the G League and an attempt in 2015 with a pro team in Las Vegas, but the league never took off because it was developed by a convicted scam artist.
Due to financial woes, Harrison, who has three children, worked briefly at McDonald’s until he landed a position at Morgan Stanley as a financial adviser. After three years, Harrison resigned from Morgan Stanley in 2019 when he discovered his desire to pursue new goals was a conflict of interest.
“I couldn’t bring in the projects that I had in my network, and a lot of them were cannabis-related,” Harrison said. “So I left Morgan and started a few cannabis projects. Getting all those things in place is such a headache. And then after the fact, you still cannot get a bank account. That’s when I came up with what I’m doing now.”
Harrison received encouragement through the years and throughout the process from a former NBA teammate, Metta Sandiford-Artest (formerly Ron Artest).
“He told me over that time what he was doing, and I told him to continue on because he’s always had a knack for business and entrepreneurship,” Artest said.
“Ron would drive me as a player and does the same thing now when it comes to business,” Harrison said. “He challenges me and he won’t let me fail. He never allowed me to go into a woe-is-me [mood]. He’s been a true big brother over my entire professional and post-professional career.”
Now that Harrison is on the verge of launching Token HiFi, he has a more positive outlook on his life. He also can’t help but reflect on the struggles he overcame to arrive at his current position.
“I don’t want my children to Google my name and only read how I was working at McDonald’s, was in a league that ended up being a scam, and me being the centerpiece in the ‘Malice in the Palace,’ ” Harrison said. “I want them to be able to be proud of their last name, like my dad made me proud. And that’s what I’m trying to do now in this aspect of my life.”