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Cigar Culture

Top Basketball Players Who Smoke Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Much has been made of Steph Curry waiting to light up a victory cigar that he had ready for after the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA finals. But Cleveland came back from 3-1 down and that cigar had to wait in a friend’s humidor until the 2017 finals, which the Warriors DID win over the Cavs. By the way, that was a Cohiba Behike 54.

Cigars have been present in winning NBA locker rooms for as long as anyone can remember. Maybe it goes back to Red Auerbach, the great Boston Celtics coach and general manager who helped win 16 championships. Auerbach would light a huge Hoyo de Monterey while seated on the bench or in the crowd, once he felt the game was won. Auerbach as coach helped the Celts win nine championships, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. Cigars were very much used to celebrate.

Most recently, perhaps, having a cigar after winning the championship became a thing after Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six titles in the 1990s. Jordan was always in view, caressing the trophy and smoking a cigar, usually a Cuban Hoyo de Monterey or Cohiba. Everybody knew then that Jordan was a true cigar lover, but even he did not usually smoke in public, within view of cameras. It just wasn’t thought to be good for the sport’s image. Or his.

MJ is not the only NBA superstar who enjoyed, or continues to enjoy, cigars. It appears that LeBron James likes cigars, and so does Kawhi Leonard. There are many players to choose from, but here’s my list of the top six cigar-loving basketball players.

MICHAEL JORDAN

Maybe the best player ever to step on the court, Jordan pretty much holds all the records over his 15-year NBA career. He is the league’s five-time MVP and averaged 30 points per game. And in the six Bulls championship series, Jordan was the MVP every year. He also played defense, being named to the all-defensive first team nine times. Oh yeah, he was also the steals leader three years. And so on.

Jordan’s first cigar was one Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf gave him after the 1991 championship.  If you’ve watched the recent series on ESPN, The Last Dance, about Jordan and the Bulls, you see that Jordan is a true cigar smoker. His giant hands dwarf his preferred (Cuban) Cohiba Limited Edition Double Corona, making it look more like a Petit Corona. In a 2005 interview with Cigar Aficionado, Jordan let it be known that he smoked a cigar before every home game as a way to deal with Chicago traffic.

Jordan would often share cigars with teammates, especially Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen. Bulls coach Phil Jackson also smoked cigars. Jordan says he found comfort in cigars.

“I started out with the Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona. I never rushed. It became such a relaxing thing to do,” Jordan has said. “I wanted that feeling of success, and relaxation. It's the most relaxing thing.”

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL

While it might seem impossible for Shaq to keep anything on the down-low, he doesn’t particularly seek to draw attention to his fondness for cigars. Shaq likes Cuban cigars and also Padrón. He’s visited the Padrón factory.

A short video clip from 2009 shows Jorge Padrón giving Shaq a tour. Shaq has a large cigar in his mouth. Jorge says, “No, I’m gonna give you a box.” Shaq complains, “No, I don’t want a box.” Pause, pause. “Okay, give me a box.” Everyone laughs.

Shaq played for six teams in the NBA over his nearly 20-year career. He is a four-time champion with three consecutive wins (2000, 2001, 2002) as a Los Angeles Laker, being coached by Phil Jackson. Shaq’s fourth title came with the Miami Heat in 2006. Shaq retains the highest scoring average in the NBA finals of any center. He is a three-time finals MVP. Etcetera, etcetera. He is still working on his free throws.

CHARLES BARKLEY

Chuck, as he is often called by his current broadcast partners, used to be known in his NBA playing days as the “Round Mound of Rebound.” But don’t let that fool you, Sir Charles, as he was also known, could get up and down the court. Barkley is an 11-time all-star forward who played a lot like the guard he used to be before the pros. Barkley was selected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was the league’s MVP in 1993. That was the year that his Phoenix Suns lost in the finals to Jordan’s Bulls, the closest Barkley got to holding the trophy. Barkley’s career started in Philadelphia with the 76ers and he still lives there part of the year. Barkley, always chatty, recently discussed his love of cigars with Cigar Aficionado, while at the Ashton Cigar Bar in Philadelphia, smoking a Cuban H. Upmann Sir Winston, a Churchill, though Barkley likes different vitolas.

Barkley attributes taking up cigars to Michael Jordan. The two were fierce opponents on the court, but became friendly over golf. They have reportedly had a falling out recently over Barkley’s criticism of Jordan’s performance as an executive for the Charlotte Hornets.

Jordan, Barkley told Cigar Aficionado, “smokes the good stuff, and he gave me the most valuable lesson ever with cigars: have two humidors. One for people who know what they’re doing, and one for people who don’t know what the f**k they’re doing. I’ve got some good cigars, and I hate it when I give someone a good cigar, they don’t enjoy it, and they leave half of it.”

Barkley said he took only a couple of puffs from the first cigar Jordan gave him and was scolded for it. Lesson learned. Barkley says that he smokes cigars most often when he’s playing golf and that he plays a lot of golf. He does like Cubans, but he also favors Padrón cigars. He keeps them all in four humidors in his Arizona home.

“I underestimated how many cigars I have,” Barkley said. He’s in the process of upgrading to a far larger unit that he hopes will hold everything. “I treat my cigars better than people,” he joked. “You gotta treat ’em good.”

KARL MALONE

Known as “The Mailman” because he consistently delivered (especially when he crashed towards the basket), Karl Malone was part of the Utah Jazz in their heyday, the 1990s. Malone was twice league MVP, 14 times an all-star and part of the 50th anniversary top players team. Malone never won the NBA championship, despite reaching the finals twice. Malone, along with Jordan and Barkley, was part of the 1992 US Olympics “Dream Team” that crushed its opponents in Barcelona to win the gold medal.

Today, Malone dedicates himself to taking care of his businesses and hunting. One of Malone’s businesses is cigars. His family owns a tobacco shop and lounge in Louisiana, but he also has his own cigar line, made by La Aurora, the La Aurora Barrel-Aged by Karl Malone. It’s the hottest seller at Malone’s Legends lounge. The cigar is made with wrapper and binder from Ecuador, and a blend of tobaccos from Peru, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic as filler.

Malone got into the cigar business after several family vacations to the Dominican Republic where he got to know the León family that owns La Aurora. Malone spent time at the factory in Santiago and learned about the cigar-making process. He even helped design the packaging and select the blend for his namesake smoke.

DOMINIQUE WILKINS

Wilkins earned the nickname “The Human Highlight Film” for his creative and athletic dunks, and for his individual playmaking. While never winning a championship in the NBA, Wilkins played 15 years and was a nine-time all-star, and a scoring champ in 1986. Wilkins played 11 seasons for the Atlanta Hawks. Late in his career, in 1996, Wilkins left the Boston Celtics, dissatisfied with his role on the team, and signed with Greece’s Panathinaikos. The team won the Euroleague championship that year. Wilkins is in the NBA Hall of Fame.

In 2019, Wilkins introduced his M.X.S. by Dominique Wilkins made by A.C.E. Prime. It’s a Toro with Dominican and Nicaraguan fillers, with a medium to full flavor profile.

PHIL JACKSON

If you’re younger than 50 years of age, you know Phil Jackson mainly as a coach whose teams have won 11 NBA championships. Jackson, who was a player for the New York Knicks in the early 1970s and part of two championship teams, mostly coming off the bench, played a total of 13 years in the NBA.

Jackson’s main claim to fame is his coaching of the Chicago Bulls to six championships and the Los Angeles Lakers to five. It helped that he had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen with him in Chicago, and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in LA, but Jackson always commanded respect and ultimately persuaded star players to adopt team play, especially the much-vaunted triangle offense.

Jackson is a longtime cigar smoker, but rarely partakes in public. He said he likes Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Fuentes, Macanudos and “Cohibas, if they’re made in Cuba.” Known for his immersion in Native American culture, Jackson told Cigar Aficionado in 1998 that he liked to smoke for spiritual reasons.

"I'm not primarily interested in smoking cigars for the oral pleasure," Jackson said, "as much as I'm attracted by the grounding sensation that it offers. Smoking can act as a powerful contracting mechanism because it absorbs a great deal of one's bodily fluids, so puffing on a good cigar just slows everything down and allows me to relax."

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