Sports Stars Gather at $1.8 Million Charity Dinner for Prostate Cancer Research
Ray Lewis, he of the hulking biceps and two Super Bowl rings, stood at the front of the room, a cigar clamped in his massive hands. Standing next to him were Carmelo
Anthony, star of the New York Knicks, former New York Yankee Gary Sheffield, who hit more than 500 home runs in his career, and John Salley, who won four NBA titles during his playing days. Lewis spoke about learning the art of smoking cigars from his grandfather.
"He said, ‘When you understand why I smoke cigars, you'll understand what it means to be a man,' " said Lewis, who reigned supreme as a linebacker in a 17-year NFL career. "After he passed away, I lit up a cigar. Now I understand what he meant."
The sports stars had gathered for charity, the 22nd annual Night to Remember, created by Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken. The event raised $1.8 million for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and set a new benchmark for charity with a single bottle of wine.
The fine, chain-link curtains shimmered, the reflecting pool bubbled and Shanken stepped into the spotlight's reddish glow as he turned brown paper bags into money in front of 230 distinguished guests in tuxedos. He opened the bidding on five bottles of mystery wines. Without knowing the contents of what was inside (and understanding they would have to share the wine that night with their tablemates) the audience bid heavily, and each sold for $60,000 or more. In the case of the final bottle, much, much more.
The wines were astounding: A bottle of Quinta do Noval Nacional vintage Port from 1963, a Magnum of 1959 Petrus, Château Mouton-Rothschild from 2005, Château Haut-Brion from 1970. Shanken brought out the fifth and final bottle-a 1961 Chateau d'Yquem. It was bought and redonated, again and again, until the total hit an outstanding $510,000.
It was a record for the event-more than any other bottle has ever raised.
More auction items followed, and brought in hundreds of thousands more. The auction lots were exquisite, tastes of the very finest things in life, including trips to Cuba, Scotland and the Dominican Republic, collections of rare whiskeys and classic wines, humidors brimming with rare cigars (some of them Cuban) and a mystery box packed with treasures.
The final lot, "Marvin's Mystery Box," began with a specially crafted Elie Bleu humidor filled with a king's trove of contents, including a guaranteed winning ticket for next year's Super Bowl (a bet placed on each team), a trip on a private jet, a case of Château Mouton-Rothschild wine, and a two-year lease on a new Fisker Karma, a luxury electric car. The humidor itself is a work of art, inlaid with Cuban bands that required the permission of the Cuban government to produce. The superlot commanded a final auction price of $200,000, which was won by radio star Rush Limbaugh.
It would be no exaggeration to call the Night To Remember the grandest cigar dinner of the year. Where else would one find so many stalwarts of the cigar, wine, spirits and financial industries all in one room? Where else do wine bottles in brown paper bags command more than half a million dollars at auction?
This year, the Night to Remember had a few surprises. The Garcia family, makers of the My Father Le Bijou 1922 Torpedo Box Pressed (Cigar Aficionado's Cigar of the Year), were brought to the stage and recognized for their achievement. Their cigar was one of three handed out at the conclusion of the dinner.
Then Shanken surprised three members of the audience by inducting them into the cigar world's most exclusive club: The Cigar Aficionado Hall of Fame (see page 148).
Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana Cigars, Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars and Rocky Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars each came up to the podium to be honored for their career achievements in the cigar industry. The new additions brought the Hall of Fame up to 18 inductees.
"Thank you, Marvin, for everything you do for this industry, for my company and for charity," said Gomez as he accepted the award. "I'm very humbled to be recognized for this honor."
The subject of cigars and cigar-smoking freedom was a popular one, as cigars were lit after the conclusion of dinner. "We used to do this at the ‘21' Club. At the time, we could smoke before, during and after dinner," said Shanken. When Michael Bloomberg became mayor and implemented a tough smoking ban, it was outgoing Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani who helped ease the restrictions. "If it weren't for the help of Rudy Giuliani, we wouldn't be here right now."
Over the years this dinner has raised more than $20 million for prostate cancer research.
Giuliani also addressed the crowd. "If I light up a cigar in the park, a police officer will give me a summons," said Giuliani. "If I light up a joint of marijuana, he'll pat me on the back. If we go to jail tonight, it will be me, Marvin and Rush Limbaugh all locked up together."
Foundation founder Michael Milken spoke about the direct effect of the money raised from the dinner. "In the last 20 years, 80 percent of people with prostate cancer, more than 1.6 million men, are still alive due to advances in prostate cancer research," he said. "I am one of them and I thank you all."
The guests smoked the finest cigars, drank sublime wine and ate like kings-all for a good cause. Funding for the research has been an invaluable source in extending and improving the quality of life for thousands of cancer victims. At each Night To Remember, every puff of every cigar and every sip of wine and whiskey brings the world that much closer to a cure. v
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