Maurice "Moe" Harkless is one of several NBA players whose path to wine went through the Portland Trail Blazers. Although the shooting guard has now returned to his hometown of New York to play for the Knicks, Harkless is taking with him what he learned from frequent trips to Oregon's Willamette Valley and from former teammate-enophiles like CJ McCollum, using those experiences to guide his expanding palate and growing passion for wine.
"When I was in Portland, the coaches, training staff and everyone else were enjoying wine together at team dinners," Harkless told Wine Spectator. "We probably took every other off day that we had and took a trip out to Willamette Valley." Since switching jerseys, he has also changed up regions a bit, entering a new partnership with Napa's The Prisoner Wine Company to help promote initiatives supporting Black-owned businesses, and racial justice and equality.
Harkless, 27, made headlines last year after sinking a three-point buzzer beater to help defeat the Los Angeles Lakers during their first season with NBA superstar Lebron James; he has also played for the Orlando Magic, L.A. Clippers and the Puerto Rico national team.
Harkless is among a growing circle of young basketball players with a thirst for top wines, and he says that having his own wine label is the end goal. He recently spoke with editorial assistant Shawn Zylberberg about his growing wine appreciation, his NBA wine-tasting experiences and his thoughts on wine in the Black community.
Wine Spectator: When did your passion for wine start?
Moe Harkless: It started when I was in college, but just as a curiosity. We’d always go to team dinners with the basketball team [at St. John's University in Queens, N.Y.,] on nights before games on the road, and I would always see our coaches enjoying wine and pouring it into decanters. Back then, I didn’t know what any of that stuff did, so I was just confused like, "What are they doing?" They seemed like they were enjoying it, especially the head coach, Steve Lavin. He was really into wine, so he would always have a story about every bottle he opened up, and he’d always use wine and reference it in his speeches at practice.
WS: What were some of those early wines, and what are you drinking now?
MH: The first wine I tried was a Cabernet from Napa Valley, and that’s how I got in. From there, every time I went out to dinner, I’d try new wines and, eventually, I got more bottles stored at home once I was old enough to buy it. Recently, I've been [drinking] The Prisoner. Peter Michael's Au Paradis Cabernet is probably my favorite wine. I enjoy Stag’s Leap as well. I got to try Yao Ming’s wine too, and that was pretty good.
WS: Has wine become a big part of NBA culture off the court?
MH: I think it’s become more popular among guys in the league. It varies, too, depending on what team you’re on. Usually it takes guys a few years to warm up to wine. In Portland, I’ve had teammates who really enjoyed it, such as CJ McCollum and Evan Turner. When I played for the Clippers, that was probably the team that appreciated wine the most. We would have wine on the plane, road trips, after games and the nights before games. A lot of my teammates in New York now are younger, and they’re not really into it, but there’s a few guys who are older, like Taj Gibson and Wayne Ellington, who enjoy a glass.
WS: Do you see wine becoming a bigger part of the Black community?
MH: Absolutely. I grew up in a predominantly Black community, and I didn’t hear much about wine or know much about it until I got older and branched outside of my community.… I think now it’s growing more and more, because I have a bunch of friends who are enjoying it and have been for a few years now.