By Tommy Zman Zarzecki
Ask anyone who is an avid cigar lover and they’ll tell you flat out, that cigar smoking is a wonderful lifestyle and not by any means a stinkin’ habit. It’s an integral part of what many refer to as “the good life” - and who on God’s green earth enjoys the good life more than professional athletes? They are adored by the public, women are throwing themselves at their feet, all while making millions upon millions of dollars for playing a child’s game.
For hundreds of years, people have smoked cigars to relax, to bond with friends, and always to celebrate an accomplishment. And while you’ll often see athletes lighting up big cigars after a prominent victory (much to the chagrin of the Smoke Nazis), they do it because cigars are a legal adult product that bring great enjoyment and relaxation.
There are many sports heroes who have enjoyed a premium hand rolled stick, and today we bring you four of the world’s greatest athletic lovers of the leaf.
4 Babe Ruth
You can argue about the greatest ball players til you’re blue in the face; but when it comes down to it, George Herman Ruth will always be at the top of the list. This guy wasn’t just amazing at his craft, he redefined the game of Major League Baseball, a game that was floundering with the fans in the early 1920s - a game of small ball, stealing bases and manufacturing runs. He became America’s newest hero by parking the long ball into the bleachers day in and day out. In 1920 he hit 54 homeruns (double the second place guy) along with a .847 slugging percentage. After three full seasons, he had more homeruns than many teams combined.
The Babe loved the good life, fancy cars, gorgeous gals, good whisky and oh, how he loved his hand-rolled cigars. While the everyday man would be puffing a 5 cent stick, Ruth would be smoking only the finest 60 cent cigars made. He first learned the love for cigars as a teen while attending St Mary’s Industrial School, an orphanage/reform school run by Xaverian Brothers who taught him the craft of rolling cigars. The man did everything to excess and with an $80,000 salary, which was astounding for that time, he lived it up like no one else, actually taking trips to Cuba just to pick up bundles of his favorite smokes.
3 Michael Jordan
MJ is arguably the greatest player to ever dribble the round ball. A man who won six NBA championships; the same man who was cut from his varsity high school basketball team. He has a number of NBA records like averaging 30.1 points a game in a season, ten scoring titles (seven of them in a row), 866 consecutive games with ten points or more and six NBA finals MVP’s, just to name a few. And yes, the man is in love with cigar smoking.
After winning his first NBA Championship in 1991, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf handed him a cigar and the celebrating had officially begun. In 1993 his driving time for home games in Chicago was as long as an hour and a half with traffic - so Michael started lighting up a good cigar to calm his nerves and clear his head. By the time he arrived at the stadium, he was relaxed and ready for game time. The guy loves his pricey Havanas from the island 90 miles south of Key West and his fave is the Partagas Lusitania. With a net worth of over a billion dollars, the old boy can certainly afford the finest.
2 Wayne Gretzky
They call him the Great One for a damned good reason. In 69 games as a ten-year-old pee wee player, the Ontario native scored 368 goals in 69 games. But when it came to making the NHL, critics said he was too small and too slow. Ha. To date, Gretzky holds a whopping 60 NHL records including 92 goals and 215 points in one season, most career points, and in the 81’-82’ season he recorded his 50th goal in just 39 games. With four Stanley Cups under his belt as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, he knows all about being a champion… and champions celebrate with good cigars.
Gretzky’s first cigar was given to him after a Stanley Cup victory in 1988, by Oilers coach, Glen Sather, a lover of big, fat Cuban sticks. He found that a good smoke helped him relax and unwind from the rigors of a brutally physical NHL season. Gretzky actually prefers smaller, mild and creamy cigars (preferring a 44 ring gauge) like Ashtons and Dunhills. When playing for the LA Kings, he would frequent then-legal smoking establishments (before the Smoke Nazis ruled the land) and to this day, when the Great One hits the golf course, there’s always a good cigar hanging from his lips.
1 Miguel Angel Jimenez
With 33 tour victories to date, this Spanish-born professional golfer is truly a cult hero in the world of golf. He does things on his terms, especially in a game where etiquette and unwritten rules are paramount. Miguel loves fine wines, rare whiskies, exotic rums and fine hand rolled cigars. With his long, flowing, curly blond locks of hair and his mammoth-sized cigars hanging from his mouth on the course, at 52 years young he doesn’t care what people think about him or his game.
“Is tobacco illegal? So why should I care if people see me smoking? I do what I do out in the open. If people have a problem with that they can stick their tongue up their ass and let the rest of us do what we want to do.”
So there you have it, four great ambassadors of the games they’ve played, all while enjoying the incomparable pleasures of smoking a premium hand-rolled cigar. But you certainly don’t have to be an icon of the sporting world to bask in the glory of a Cohiba, Perdomo, or Romeo y Julieta. Just fire up a good stick on the back patio after a hard day’s work and you too will feel like a champion every time.