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Long Tall Salley

Former NBA Big Man John Salley makes a play for stardom after basketball.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 6)

"I said, 'I don't know shit about cigars, Gary. What do you know about cigars?' And he was, like, 'Well, I'm learning every day.' So one time in Chicago he said, 'You should ride with me downtown.' We go downtown and we go to Jack Schwartz, an old cigar place, and I'm watching these guys come in from the stock exchange and buying cigars like they were buying bubble gum."

That was Salley's eye-opener.

Footlik, 48, confirms Salley's story. "John said it would never work. Six months later he calls and says, 'I'm finding cigars every town I'm in.' We opened this store in Wilmette, Illinois, and I put two and two together to get four and named it Cigary--cigar with a 'y' on the end." Salley recalls that when people wanted a cigar, the response would be "See Gary," and so the name of the establishment came about that way.

Together the two have fashioned a shop that deals in premium brands. "We specialize in hard-to-find brands," says Footlik. "We always have Padróns, Ashtons, Arturo Fuentes. In all, we have about 100 brands. We're an upscale store; we carry few off-brands. I like to say we're the Ultimo [a swank clothing store] of cigar stores. We're not getting the trendy kid who wants to be cool. Our guys have been smoking for a while."

What is Salley's favorite cigar? He has five: La Gloria Cubana, Avo Intermezzo, Padrón (especially the Pyramid), Don Melo and Tamboril. His partner disagrees. "His favorite cigar is a free one," Footlik cracks. "He never carries any so someone has to." And what about Footlik? "I smoke a variety of brands; I'm partial to Padróns, which are very smooth, have a lot of flavor, are not overpowering. I like the Flor de Florez [a Nicaraguan cigar]. I like a full-bodied, flavorful smoke, not a mild papery smoke but something with a lot of flavor and body to it."

Though Salley had enjoyed his first smoke just two years earlier, he quickly learned enough about cigars to assist in evaluating the more than 100 brands for the store. His learning curve was steep. "Gary gave me the cigar diary a year before we even opened the store. So I'm buying new diaries now. A diary has a place to put the label. You can put what you thought about it, the taste of it. The first puff, the middle puff, the end of it. So whenever I go into it I can say, 'Hey, that was a good cigar. This was a good cigar.' You can talk about 'em like that."

Salley and Footlik opened Cigary in November 1996. They plan to open another store in the Chicago area this spring.

Life after basketball is looking up for Salley. Not only did he land the big NBA broadcast gig; he was recently married to Natasha, 28. "The first night I met her, I wrote her name down, put it into a computer and said, 'That's my wife to be.' Together they had a child, Tyla Milan, who was a year old last July. His first child, Giovanna, from a previous relationship, turned 10 in January.

Natasha doesn't go for smoking, however. "I have to brush my tongue, my lips," says Salley. "I don't smoke in the house. Plus, I've got a newborn."

You can't have everything. But Salley's life, even after basketball, shows that you can have most everything. Long Tall Salley is large enough proof that there's not only life after the courts--there's an abundant life after the courts.

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