Cigar All-Stars

What are some of the greatest athletes and coaches in sports doing when they're not competing? Enjoying a cigar, of course.
| By David Savona , James Suckling , Bruce Goldman , Gordon Mott , Mark Weissenberger , Michael Moretti , Michael Marsh | From Bill Murray, Nov/Dec 2004
Cigar All-Stars
Photo/Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Michael Jordan relishes in the moment after winning four straight against the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals to take the title on June 12, 1991 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.

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.

Michael Jordan

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.

Shaquille O'Neal

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

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.

Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson owes his title as the ‘Zen Master’ to ‘meditation and cigars’. (Photo/ESPN Films)

Phil Jackson

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.

Sammy Sosa

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.

Alex Rodriguez

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.

A Rod
Alex Rodriguez or ‘A-Rod’ sits down with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher, to discuss sports, business, cigars and more. (Photo/Cigar Aficionado)

Jack McKeon

They say if you're looking for Jack McKeon around the clubhouse, follow the aroma of cigar smoke and you'll find him. Whether he's talking baseball in the bullpen during batting practice or holding court with reporters postgame, the 73-year-old manager of the Florida Marlins is rarely without a heater.

McKeon, who lists the Padrón Anniversary among his favorite cigars, began smoking Tampa Nuggets in 1949 as a minor league ballplayer and his love of cigars grew with his knowledge of baseball. He spent 17 years as a minor league manager before landing his first big league job in 1973 with the Kansas City Royals. Since then, McKeon has split time as a manager and general manager, and has smoked plenty of cigars along the way.

The highlight of McKeon's 56 years in baseball is the 2003 World Series with Florida. Not only did the victory make him the oldest manager ever to win the Series, it earned him plenty of congratulatory cigars from Jorge Padrón, an avid Marlins fan.

Joe Torre

Joe Torre started smoking cigars as a minor league ballplayer at the age of 19. He continued to smoke during his major league career with the Braves, Cardinals and Mets and then when he went on to manage with the same teams. But it wasn't until Torre arrived in the Bronx as manager of the Yankees that he was able to light up a cigar after winning the World Series.

Or should we say four World Series?

Of course, even when the Yankees aren't winning it all, Torre still finds time to light up.

"My favorite time to smoke is in my office before a game because nobody yells at me there," says Torre, who adds that his favorite cigar is a Padrón Anniversary.

As for the relationship between cigars and sports, Torre says, "When I think of competition and cigars, I think of Red Auerbach [of the Boston Celtics]. It sort of makes you feel good about yourself."

Steve McNair

Say what you want about Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans, but don't say he isn't tough. Really tough. During a game against the Indianapolis Colts last year, McNair took a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, popped it back into its socket like the snap of a guillotine cutter across the cap of a toro, then returned to action in the second half. It was this kind of toughness, along with throwing 24 touchdowns and 3,215 yards, that earned him co-MVP accolades for the 2003 season.

When McNair isn't toiling on the gridiron, he enjoys taking it easy with a cigar. In September, an MVP celebration was held at the Vanderbilt Stadium Club in Nashville, complete with dinner, auctions to benefit the football star's Steve McNair Foundation and a cigar bar featuring C.A.O. cigars. If anyone deserves a celebratory MVP cigar, it's Air McNair.

Dick Butkus

Dick Butkus was one of the biggest and baddest bone-crunching linebackers to ever wear shoulder pads and a helmet. Today he's a cigar-chomping champion of C.A.O. Brazilias with rugged, leathery features and a wry look that is as if to say, "I dare you to ask me to put out my cigar."

A three- to four-cigar-a-day smoker, Butkus came upon his Brazilias during a stopover at C.A.O. International Inc.'s headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, four years ago. His son Matt and Tim Ozgener, vice president of C.A.O., were fraternity brothers at the University of Southern California, and after a tour of the company's facility, the elder Butkus sat down with C.A.O.'s owner, Cano Ozgener. The two talked and smoked the day away, and ever since Butkus has been puffing exclusively on the Brazilia Amazon, the largest in the line and appropriate for the former Bear. Just don't ask him to put one out.

Mike Ditka

During his years as an NFL player and coach, "Iron" Mike Ditka's temper ran as hot as the end of his stogie. But it was that intensity and drive that helped the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl in 1986 and propelled Ditka into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It also helped him garner success in the world of cigars after his retirement. He has owned Mike Ditka's Restaurant, a cigar-friendly steak house in cigar-friendly Chicago, since 1997, and even offers his own line of signature smokes, the Dominican-made Mike Ditka Champion Series, to patrons. Previously, Ditka teamed up with Graycliff, a Bahamian manufacturer, to produce two lines of cigars.

Besides his own line, Ditka lists Dunhills among his favorite smokes, but is quick to point out that "there are no bad cigars, unless you get one that offends you."

Don Shula

With six Super Bowl appearances, two Lombardi trophies and the only undefeated season in NFL history, Don Shula has earned himself a place in the gridiron Hall of Fame and a seat at football's head table. Shula also earns a place among Cigar Aficionado's Cigar All-Stars. Many of his victories were celebrated with a cigar, especially after winning the championship. "Lighting up after winning the Super Bowls," he told Cigar Aficionado Online in 2003, "those were always very special moments."

These days, Shula toasts his fame and success with a chain of restaurants and steak houses that count premium smokes in the playbook. Shula's Steak Houses are dedicated to the Dolphins' perfect season in 1972 and decorated with memorabilia from his coaching days. He enjoys relaxing with a cigar while taking walks or sitting on his back porch. Cohibas are his brand of choice, which he gets from a friend who frequently visits Cuba.

Jim Thorpe

If you were a golfer and a gambler, whose life would you choose to lead? It's a real easy answer: Jim Thorpe's. The Champions Tour player is one of the mainstays of what was once called the Senior Tour. He has won twice in 2004, through early October, increasing his total Champions Tour victories to nine, to go with the three PGA Tour wins he tallied in the 1980s. The 55-year-old Thorpe has exceeded the $1 million level in his season's winnings.

For Thorpe, it's not just about the golf. While he loves the game, he also loves the freedom and the perks that come with it. He's got an endorsement contract with Callaway and with Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. He's also a member of Team Te-Amo, the Altadis U.S.A.-sponsored group of Champions Tour golfers who make sure they are at the Montecristo Cup in Puerto Rico every December. Then, it's not just about the golf, either, but the joy of lighting up a Montecristo White No. 2 Belicoso, and a few forays to the local casino to play craps.

Davis Love III

Davis Love III is nearing a lifetime exemption on the PGA Tour. As of early October, he had 18 wins. It takes 20. In 2004, he has finished second two times, losing to Tiger Woods in a 36-hole match-play final at the World Golf Championship at La Costa in California and to Todd Hamilton in the Honda Classic. He won the PGA Championship in 1997 at Winged Foot in New York and the Players Championship at TPC-Sawgrass in 2003. He also has a lock on the MCI Heritage golf tournament at Hilton Head; he's won it five times since 1987.

He is known as one of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour, and after this year's U.S. loss at the Ryder Cup, he smoked cigars with his good friend and opponent Darren Clarke. The last time he was featured in Cigar Aficionado, in 1997, he had just won the PGA Championship. Today, Love says his favorite cigar is the Partagas Serie D No. 4.

Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky was introduced to cigars in 1988. The Great One had just finished leading the Edmonton Oilers to their fourth Stanley Cup victory in five seasons and Oilers coach Glen Sather gave him a cigar during the celebration. Gretzky loved it.

Unbeknownst to Gretzky, his tenure with the Oilers organization would end with that winning season, but his enjoyment of cigars was only beginning. Gretzky began visiting cigar bars for relaxation and keeping a humidor filled with Ashtons, Cohibas and Hoyo de Monterreys. In 1997, he appeared on the cover of Cigar Aficionado, and has regularly attended the magazine's Night to Remember charity auction.

Today, Gretzky remains close to hockey as managing partner of the Phoenix Coyotes and executive director of Team Canada. He also remains fond of the milder cigars he grew to love as a player. But don't get on him for smoking mild cigars. With 61 NHL records in his pocket, Great Gretzky can smoke what he wants.

Martin Brodeur

Not everyone's first cigar moment is a memorable experience. Martin Brodeur's is indelible. After backstopping the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup in 1995, Brodeur fired up a cigar in celebration, and from that victory smoke a cigar lover was born. "It's the mark of a true champion," says Brodeur, who once joked that his sweaty goalie equipment would be ideal for humidifying his favorite cigars, the Arturo Fuente Don Carlos. "[It's] that satisfaction that you accomplished something. That's how you feel when you have a cigar in your hand."

Since that first championship, the Devils have gone on to win the Stanley Cup two more times—in 2000 and 2003—with Brodeur securing victories between the pipes on both occasions. And, as might be expected, the oft-smiling French Canadian celebrated each triumph as he did the first—with a cigar.

Michael Schumacher

He's the second highest paid athlete in the world, earning $80 million a year, and he likes nothing better than sitting down with a Partagas 8-9-8 following a race. So what's not to like about Michael Schumacher? The 35-year-old head driver for the Ferrari Formula One race team has won seven world championships and more than 82 checkered flags in 14 years of racing. It's doubtful anyone will ever match his achievement, and his career is far from over.

Schumacher is less known in the United States due to the lack of Grand Prix races here, but his following is massive around the world. Some racing fans have said he's made Formula One boring because he almost always wins, but no one can deny he's a superb driver with uncanny reflexes and mind-blowing ability.

"Off the track, he is just like just another guy," says one official with Formula One. "He enjoys his family and friends and likes nothing better than a good party." And a good cigar.

Jimmy Spencer

When Jimmy Spencer is behind the wheel, he's "Mr. Excitement," an aggressive driver who's won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona and the Sears Diehard 500 at Talladega. Away from racing, he's a friendly, candid man who enjoys time at his North Carolina home with his family, a splash of Wild Turkey and a cigar.

He's also an avid golfer and admits there's no better place to fire up his favorite Dunhill and Punch, especially with so many antismoking laws sweeping the country. "It's awful that you can't go into a lot of places and enjoy a cigar," says the straight-talking Spencer, "and that owners aren't given the choice."

Around the track, Spencer rarely smokes, but chews on cigars instead. He allows there's an image that NASCAR likes racers to maintain and he's happy to comply. But with 80 top-10 finishes, 28 top-5 finishes and three pole positions in his Winston and Nextel Cup career, a cigar every once in a while is well deserved.

James Toney

In eight days, James "Lights Out" Toney is going to fight, but that isn't stopping him from enjoying his beloved cigars. "They say it's bad for you, smoking, but I say, 'It's not smoking, it's cigars,'" he says. His voice is cool and fast, layered with the confidence of 67 victories. "Smoking is cigarettes, smoking is weed. Not cigars."

The 36-year-old former middleweight and cruiserweight champion is a wily counterpuncher. In his epic battle with Vassily Jirov in 2003, the men threw more punches than some flyweights. One writer called Toney the Michelangelo of boxing and The Ring magazine named him Fighter of the Year.

Toney, whose favorite cigar is a Montecristo No. 2, has since moved up to the heavyweight division. He convincingly defeated Evander Holyfield and now wants to fight champion Vitali Klitchko. Critics call the 5-foot-11 fighter too small, which motivates him. "I've been fighting big guys all my life," he says. "I don't turn down nothing but my collar."

Gerry Cooney

The boxing world is made up of boxers and punchers. Gerry Cooney was the latter, a 6-foot-6 Irish Catholic blessed with sledgehammers for hands. George Foreman called Cooney's left hook the hardest punch he'd ever felt and, in 1981, Cooney used it to annihilate Ken Norton in a one-round mismatch. "I could have beaten anyone that day," says Cooney, puffing on a Cuban torpedo. His title fight with Larry Holmes the following year, which he lost, was one of the biggest sports draws of the 1980s.

Cooney enjoys his cigars, mostly Punch, Davidoff and Romeo y Julieta. "I don't smoke a lot, but I like to smoke," he says. The 48-year-old is helping fighters with life after the ring with his organization called F.I.S.T., to show them "what to do when the roar of the crowd is gone." He still laces up the gloves, boxing to stay fit and for the love of the sport.

Ahmad Rashad

When it comes to scoring exclusive cigars, it's all about who you know. Ahmad Rashad, the former All-Pro wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, has smoked cigars with guys like Michael Jordan and snagged smokes from Sidney Frank, the ex-Grey Goose vodka king for whom Davidoff custom-makes an extra large double corona. "It's just a wonderful cigar," says Rashad.

Besides the Davidoff, the longtime sportscaster and host has several other smokes that he particularly relishes, including new favorites such as the Cohiba Siglo VI and the Partagas No. 1. Rashad, who lights up five to six cigars a day, also enjoys Hoyo Epicures, a longtime staple, and Partagas No. 4s.

The six-time Emmy nominee has been the executive producer of "NBA Inside Stuff" and NBA Entertainment-produced specials since 1998. He hosts NBA TV's celebrity talk show, "Ahmad Rashad One-On-One," and its pregame show, "Live at the Finals."

Terry Bradshaw

Credit Art Rooney for turning Terry Bradshaw on to cigars.

When the late Pittsburgh Steelers owner thought his star quarterback might like to try one, he gave one of his smokes to Bradshaw, who liked it so much that he was soon raiding Rooney's humidor (with a little help from the owner's secretary). Chances are the franchise's founder didn't mind too much, seeing that the 1970 No. 1 draft pick would lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories from 1975 to 1980.

After retiring from football, Bradshaw took his love of cigars to television, serving as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports and then as an award-winning cohost and analyst for "NFL FOX Sunday." Mild cigars were his preferred smokes, such as The Griffin's, and he frequently would light up while studying tapes of games.

Over the years, the versatile Bradshaw has appeared in films and TV series, launched a singing career, written five books and become a popular motivational speaker.