4X NBA Champion John Salley is proudly from Brooklyn, New York. In Brooklyn, he developed his love for basketball at an early age and would go on to win championships with three different franchises in three different decades. Salley is also the head of his own production company and is a well-established television host. In addition to being a talented individual, Salley is a philanthropist. He is involved with Operation Smile, PCRM, PETA and the fight against diabetes. John has even visited Washington, D.C., in order to speak to Congress about the Child Nutrition Act, hoping to increase vegetarian options in public schools. Salley’s passion for health continues, as he is a wellness master, advocate and chef. He creates exquisite vegan cuisines, using plant-based foods and various ethnic techniques and ingredients, and in his most recent venture, he has opened his new vegan restaurant called Cafe Organix.
Tricia Love: Before you were a 4X NBA Champion, wellness health advocate, entrepreneur, vegan and cannabis activist – there was little John Salley back in Brooklyn. What was it like growing up in the Brooklyn projects?
John Salley: It was cool. My mom was very resourceful, especially when raising three boys and having a husband and prices were rising, and she was not getting paid the right amount. So, she took some dirt, dug some holes and cleared an area out for a garden. We planted some seeds that would grow into cucumbers, okra, collard greens, tomatoes, squash, zucchini and green string beans. A majority of what we had on our plates for dinner came from that garden.
Tricia Love: I love that. That was your mom taking initiative, and I’m sure part of your character comes from her.
John Salley: Yeah. Eating healthier as a kid also led to my current health. I’m working on a series with doctors and cardiologists. It’s called “Slave’s Food.” Of course, it talks about the food that the slaves ate, but it also speaks about people becoming slaves to food, and it describes the reason why we have the highest obesity rate in the world.
Tricia Love: Wow. I’m excited to see what comes of that. It’s also awesome to see someone from the projects reach such a great level of success. Tell me about your driving force to reach the top.
John Salley: I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, and that knocking on people’s doors on Saturday morning and people yelling at you, people saying no and dogs chasing you. It was the resilience of knocking on one door and then the next door and the next and the next door that built me. My mom also instilled that go-getter attitude within me, as she worked three jobs. First, my mom was a maid. We cleaned houses at Long Island, and I would go and do the vacuuming; and if I got my stuff done quickly, she let me go swimming in the pools since the residents weren’t home.
I remembered looking back at the mansion we were cleaning and pretending it was my house. I was a little Black kid in the seventies. Then she worked as a presser at a dry cleaners. We also had a hot dog stand in the back of our station wagon. I was the ice boy. There was no job too big and no job too small. So, I knew
what it was to put in hard work. I always put in the hard work since then.
Tricia Love: You said you pretended the mansion was yours. Did you imagine yourself in luxurious places like that all the time?
John Salley: Oh, yeah. I’d tell my mom that I was going to be in Beverly Hills one day. I also lived in the Bayview Projects, and I would go up onto the roofs. My mom would ask me what I was doing up there and I would tell her “Oh, this is my penthouse;” and when you turned around on a clear day, I would say I could see Beverly Hills. My mom would say, “No, no, that’s Manhattan,” and I’d say, “Ma, you got to look past Manhattan.”
In 1998, I moved into my house in Beverly Hills and the windows were 33 feet high. You could see the beautiful view of the valley, and my mom said, “You made it.” And I said, “I made it a long time ago.” I mean, I had been playing in the NBA for 15 years already. But she was talking about living in Beverly Hills. I can’t say the name of my book yet, but part of it deals with that experience. I forecasted where I was going to live, and I gave myself a goal to do what it took to get there. To be a Black kid, it means something even more because the environment is not designed for us to fly. It’s designed for us to stay mediocre. It’s designed for us to feel less than and to lack.
Tricia Love: But you proved otherwise. And now you’re passing on that work ethic to your daughter, Tyla Salley, who you are running Deuces 22 together (a premium cannabis brand). I’m sure she will continue that legacy of determination & success.
“I’d tell my mom that I was going to be in Beverly Hills one day. I also lived in the Bayview Projects, and I would go up onto the roofs. My mom would ask me what I was doing up there, and I would tell her, “Oh, this is my penthouse;” and when you turned around on a clear day, I would say I could see Beverly Hills. My mom would say, “No, no, that’s Manhattan,” and I’d say, “Ma, you got to look past Manhattan.”John Salley- NBA Champion, Wellness Master, Vegan Advocate, Entrepreneur, Deuces 22 Owner
To continue to follow the journey of their father-daughter venture, follow them on social media @johnsally and @tylamilan.
Read about other vegan activists here.