Jarnell Stokes was recruited early in his basketball career to follow in the footsteps of some of the NBA’s greatest players. After a career-changing injury in 2018, he had to pivot — to embrace his Memphis roots and a mindfulness. Stokes is now a successful crypto investor, entrepreneur, published author, and film producer. And it’s only just begun.
Brendan Doherty: Let’s start early – how did growing up in Memphis in the 90s shape who you are today?
Jarnell Stokes: Memphis is an extremely authentic place when it comes to diversity, it’s a thriving place. I call it the new Harlem. Much like Harlem in the 1920s, Memphis saw the emergence of many African American artists and creatives. I feel that this legacy is etched in me and has made me a tough-minded person. The thing that sticks out in my mind is the music – hearing the trombones and tubas, the flutes, the drum line filling. That’s what I grew up in, it was the 90s for me.
Doherty: Growing up with such strong musical influences – was a sporting career always a goal for you? Or how has music translated into your career?
Stokes: The saying goes “every athlete wants to be an artist, and every artist wants to be an athlete”. Athletes feel like they can’t have enough influence in the world. Artists want to be in the spotlight. I never really wanted to be an artist, but I made albums on my own. I really love guys like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Mos Def, Ice Cube. I grew up listening to them. That perspective is something I’m fortunate to have now that I’m an athlete. I can write about a musician’s life and how he got out of doors, because I know the tunnel. I know the life story and what they went through.
Doherty: Switching from music to sports – tell me about your experience playing for the Chinese Basketball Association, how was it?
Stokes: I made a name for myself there, they called me the “LeBron James of China”. I was also able to work on my skills and embrace mindfulness. Mindfulness is much more a part of that culture, so there was a deep appreciation for it. In addition, I was able to earn a lot of money, which now funds my entrepreneurial journey.
Doherty: So what motivated you to make the transition to a creative and investing space after your career as a professional football player?
Stokes: In 2018, I broke my foot with the Denver Nuggets. I had just won Development League MVP where we set the record for most wins, championships – you name it. Then, shortly after my parents divorced, my grandmother passed away and I lost my college girlfriend who I had intended to propose to. All of this happened in the space of a week. It was so devastating.
With the broken foot, I lost my routine of going to the gym every day, and in many ways, I lost my identity as an athlete. But I wanted to be part of the “more than an athlete” movement. Even though I was only a fifth grade reading level, I had an idea for a book that I was determined to bring to fruition. I didn’t know how to introduce myself but I called Barnes and Noble, Penguin, Random House and pitched the idea.. I really had to recreate myself. I spent 20 hours a day reading and writing, meditating, going into nature. In Memphis, we don’t focus on our sanity – we barbecue, we talk shit, we watch sports. I had to learn this new identity and figure out what my next step would be. We went ahead and launched the book, which is now wings to fly and it becomes a feature film. It was chosen by Jay Fukuto, former EP of The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Beavis & Butt-Head. Jay really loves the project and it’s so much fun collaborating with him on it.
Doherty: It’s a real lesson to jump into something that you may not “formally” know, but really believe you can do. I know that health and wellness is also part of your story and your investment. How?
Stokes: When I hurt my foot in Denver, it was kind of a blessing. I learned the mindfulness that I didn’t have growing up in Memphis. With Stokes Superfoods, I want to make mindfulness, meditation — all those things that aren’t typical of our culture — cool. We are on track to achieve sales of $1.2 million this year. For now, we’re focusing on CBD, but we want Stokes Superfoods to be a full-service business. We are working on new products including nano CBD. Nano CBD is a blend of CBD and complementary herbs that will enhance the energy and healing process in individuals. It is designed to be more personal and personalized. Think Five Hour Energy meets natural CBD. As an athlete, I feel like I know what people want and what can improve them in that area.
Doherty: You recently announced two new television series in development. The first, Memphis and the mountain top, features the intersection of iconic civil rights, sports and music leaders during the city’s struggle in the late ’60s as the epicenter of the social justice movement. What got you into content production, and what about this story that has yet to be told but needs to be?
Stokes: I felt exactly what John Lewis meant when he said “When MLK died, I think something died in all of us. Something died in America.” Viewers will learn never-before-revealed facts about the days leading up to MLK’s assassination and feel the outpouring of grief, pain and anger as his death literally crushed the soul of Memphis. Audiences will witness the rise of black power from a new perspective as African American activists, Stax musicians and local sports stars transform from vocal protesters to savvy politicians. Most people today are familiar with the music that comes from my city – but what about the views and words of the athletes and musicians who have lived there? Although the black entertainment industry has grown tremendously financially, I am disappointed to see that the modern collective consciousness has normalized calamity and shallowness in its music and entertainment. It pains me to feel the pressure of a stereotype that to be successful black men have to be rappers and athletes even hundreds of years after slavery. The word of the wise is that history tends to repeat itself if we don’t change our culture.
Doherty: Your second show, where it counts, follows a DC councilwoman and a Black Lives Matter leader from opposing social justice sides as they navigate Washington. Is this a reflection of American society and politics today?
Stokes: Our main character, Serena, is a strong politician who must succeed in making Washington DC the 51st state and gain representation for its disenfranchised citizens before her enemies can destroy her. My fellow activists and spiritual gurus may cancel me for saying this, but TV can be a great way to learn and heal – depending on the content you consume. Politics and power were not openly discussed topics growing up in Memphis. Traveling with my footballing career has given me a window on the world to see how other governments interact with their citizens, especially young people. The youth activism I witnessed (and sometimes lack thereof) prompted me to write a political show designed to appeal to curious young minds in the same way college settings do. By providing direct access to thought-provoking information and data, laced with gritty, romantic, and compelling twists, I hope to engage and inform America’s youth.
Doherty: At a time when NBA players were being told to ‘shut up and dribble’, you co-created a children’s book with Howard Flamm encouraging young people to do the opposite – to empower themselves and gain trust. What was it like to create such a powerful book with Howard? How do we mentor the next generation and how can they mentor us?
Stokes: Jarnac, the main character of my children’s book wings to fly, was born around the time I felt like I too was born again. Simple things like writing, reading, praying, and meditating boosted my confidence. Suddenly a spark of energy and empathy for fellow athletes and lost souls touched my spirit and woke me up everyday. Most of our guardians in children’s books aren’t like us, and kids need a hero who understands them on a deeper, spiritual level.
Doherty: You are an investor and entrepreneur in multiple industries, including sports management, food and wellness, crypto, technology, and real estate. How do you prioritize your time and resources? What motivates you on a daily basis?
Stokes: My guiding principles and habits, the ever-working God, and my own hard work. Entrepreneurship requires great team chemistry, intelligence, but also a rich mind and a passion to persevere and make good decisions.
Doherty: I understand that you are an early adopter of cryptocurrency. You have already said that you generate more income in crypto than in your professional career. What advice would you give to people looking into cutting-edge technology? How did you approach crypto in a way that allowed you to succeed with such new technology?
Stokes: I see innovation as an opportunity. When I see companies like Binance sue the government, I have a counterintuitive perspective that allows me to see the threat to the current system as an opportunity for an entrepreneur. A lot of it is about intuition and access to good information, but more important is being willing to take risks. I got into crypto in 2017 and it just took off. I put in a million dollars, just to be part of the next hottest thing, and it turned 8x, which is more than I made in the NBA.
Doherty: Great for chatting Jarnell. You are a prime example of a talent that crosses over from courtship to adventure, to Hollywood, and more. Looking forward to spending more time together.