What are some of the greatest athletes and coaches in sports doing when they're not competing? Enjoying a cigar, of course.
Cigars have always had their place among sports fanatics. Not only are they a staple for tailgaters in parking lots everywhere, but many stadiums and arenas also offer cigar-friendly bars and lounges where spectators can enjoy a smoke during intermissions or while waiting for the postgame traffic to clear.
It's not just fans getting in on the cigar action, however, or even the multitudes of dedicated golf enthusiasts who swear there's no better place to light up than on the course. Professional athletes and coaches also have a history of being cigar lovers. We're talking guys like legendary slugger Babe Ruth and Boston Celtics icon Red Auerbach. Seldom were they without a cigar once the game was over, and often times Auerbach would be clipping his signature smoke before the final whistle blew, confident that the Celtics had the game locked up.
Today's coaches and athletes certainly smoke cigars, too. Sometimes it's to celebrate a championship or the breaking of a record, and other times it's to aid relaxation during the off-season or when a gourmet meal or bottle of wine demands it. For this select group we deem Cigar All-Stars, a premium cigar is more than just for celebrating athletic feats, but also for celebrating the best that life has to offer.
Here at Cigar Aficionado, we tracked down those athletes and coaches who excel both as professional sports figures and as cigar lovers. They are the best of the best and true Cigar All-Stars.
Without argument, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. He led the Bulls to six NBA championships, won the league MVP five times and averaged 30 points per game during his 15-year career. He ranks among the best in almost every offensive category, and he changed the face of the NBA, and sports marketing as a whole.
But what about Michael Jordan the cigar smoker? Sure, His Airness prefers to keep his love of cigars under the radar, but that doesn't mean he isn't a connoisseur. His favorite cigar is the Cohiba Limited Edition Double Corona and he's been known to light up after winning the NBA championship, when he's playing a round of golf or sitting at a card table. And what about the cigar cutter accident or his chain of cigar-friendly steak houses?
Anyway you cut it, Jordan is a Hall of Fame athlete. And at the end of the day, he's also a Hall of Fame cigar smoker.
While Shaquille O'Neal enjoys lighting up on occasion, the seven-footer, like Jordan, doesn't like to have attention drawn to his appreciation of premium cigars. Even so, his celebrity status is a perfect fit for the cigar lifestyle.
He's the most dominant center in the NBA, and when he isn't moonlighting as a musician or an actor, Shaq is living the good life. He's an avid collector of cars and motorcycles, and keeps a fine selection of Cuban smokes in the cigar room of his California estate. Shaq has been known to hand out cigars to guests as party favors and he's surely dipped into his humidor to celebrate his three NBA titles.
Now Shaq is off to Miami and his basketball prowess and celebrity status are already being embraced there. And whether or not Shaq adds to his collection of championships, he's sure to add a few sticks to his collection of cigars in a city steeped in cigar tradition.
Rick Pitino's basketball résumé speaks for itself. He took his first head coaching job in 1978 and has won more than 400 collegiate games since. He's been to the Final Four four times and won the national championship with Kentucky in 1996. Throw in stints with the Celtics and Knicks in the NBA, and Pitino stands as one of the most experienced coaches in the country.
Away from the court, Pitino is also an experienced cigar smoker. A regular at Cigar Aficionado's Night to Remember dinner, he often celebrates victories (or ponders frustrations) with a Montecristo or a Fuente. "Cigars are great tools for socializing and celebrating the good times," says Pitino, whose favorite smoke is the Partagas 150 Signature Series. "They also help you to reflect and relax during difficult ones."
Entering his fourth year at the University of Louisville, Pitino is looking forward to the upcoming season and has big expectations for his team—expectations that include plenty of victory cigars.
To those who know him and have worked with him, Phil Jackson is referred to as the "Zen Master." Not because he won an NBA title as a player and nine as a coach during his basketball days, but because of his consistency and integrity, which Jackson says he owes all to "meditation and cigars." The name is also derived from Jackson's spiritual and philosophical lifestyle, which along with meditation and cigars includes riding a motorcycle, fishing and taking a keen interest in Native American culture.
Jackson, who retired from coaching after the 2003—04 season, started smoking during his playing days with the Knicks, enjoying a cigar with teammates after games. He found the ritual eased the tensions and pressures of playing in the NBA, and the same held true during his time as a head coach. "Puffing on a good cigar just slows everything down and allows me to relax," he once told Cigar Aficionado.
It isn't hard for Sammy Sosa to indulge in his native pastime. The Dominican-born slugger, who made Cigar Aficionado's list of the top 100 great smokers (December 1999 issue), was flooded with cigars when the Cubs reached the playoffs in 1998 and 2003. And when rumor got out that he liked the Fuente Fuente OpusX, Carlos Fuente Jr. created cigars for him shaped like baseball bats.
Drafted by Texas in 1985, Sosa played his first full season in the majors with the White Sox in 1990. It wasn't until 1993, though, that Sosa broke out with the north-side rival Cubs, hitting 33 home runs. Of course, Sosa will always be remembered for hitting 66 home runs in 1998 to eclipse Roger Maris's record, as well as hitting 63 homers in 1999 and 64 in 2001.
Now if Sosa and the Cubs could only win a World Series, he and the rest of Chicago would have quite a victory cigar to light up.
According to his agent, Scott Boras, Alex Rodriguez enjoys a cigar now and again. How couldn't you when you're baseball's $252 million man, with powers at the plate and with the leather making you one of baseball's best all-around players?
Born in New York, but raised in the Dominican Republic and Miami, A-Rod's 10-year career has been marked with accomplishments. In his rookie year with the Mariners, he became, at 18, one of the youngest shortstops to play in the majors, and in 1996 he won the American League batting crown. He's one of only three players in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season and is fast approaching 400 career home runs.
Today, A-Rod is looking at a bright future with the New York Yankees and chances are it's one that will bring him one or two celebratory cigars.
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