US Sport, Cigars and New York City


Success in any market, pursuit or industry around the world, is celebrated by various means and activities.

In some cases the method of celebration would appear to contradict the activity.

Take American sport as an example.

Despite political correctness and a modern backlash against smoking tobacco, lighting up a cigar following a win in a pennant, Super Bowl or Championship, seems to be a ‘rusted on’ tradition.

Ingrained in American culture, the image of the athlete hugging a trophy with a ‘stogie’ in his mouth, is commonplace and a clear representation of winning in the US.

Red Auerback, the famous coach of the Boston Celtics who is widely considered the pioneer of the modern game of basketball, once said that smoking a cigar is a sign of relaxation and a cigarette is a sign of tension.

During his reign as one of the all-time great basketball coaches, and in a show of competitive arrogance, Red was known to light up a cigar during a game when he thought his team had the game won, drawing the ire of opposition coaches, players and officials alike.

Whilst synonymous with American sporting success, Cigar smoking is starting to infiltrate the Australian sporting scene. You only need to look at Rob Dixon’s 2008 AFL documentary, “Essence of the Game”, to see Hawthorn premiership heroes enjoying a cigar on the MCG, well after the crowd had dissipated into the night.

Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Shaquille O’Neal and superstar Ice Hockey player Wayne Gretsky are just a few of the sports stars known to ‘light up’ in celebration of a victory or a milestone.

On a recent trip to New York City, I found myself wandering the streets late one night and I discovered a small shop that nurtures a tradition of American culture that is fast becoming lost in the haze of automation, technology and factory machine lines.

With modernization squeezing the romance out of times gone by, hand making cigars is a skill that has been handed down over generations.

New York’s Martinez Hand Rolled Cigars, promotes what is American folklore and a dying art.

You don’t need a street address for Martinez, you simply follow the smooth, rich, earthy smell of cigars that spice the New York City air. You can smell the shop a block away.

Only a drop punt from the home of US sport, Madison Square Garden, and decorated with 1970s fixtures and fittings, it has an almost ‘hunting lodge’ appeal.

Cigar artisans from the Dominican Republic, diligently roll and pack each cigar whilst flaming up themselves.

Surrounded by historical sporting memorabilia and immersed in thick grey blue smoke, the tobacco specialists sit at open plan, well-worn work stations corralled by brown wooden cupboards and dried green tobacco leaves.

With dozens of the finished product packed up against the wall, each craftsman are experts in their field having accumulated upwards of 40 years’ experience packing and hand crafting cigars.

Open since 1974, Martinez is the only handmade cigar manufacturer in the New City York area, and one of perhaps only a dozen across the United States. Almost like David and Goliath, Martinez competes with the big money suppliers in the Cigar business and does it well.

Cigars are not only the jurisdiction of sports champions. New Yorkers mill around the shop having arrived to smoke, talk, joke and get away from the crush and pressure that is New York City.

That’s what’s unique about this shop, it’s almost like a neighbourhood pub, an oasis in which to relax and take it easy amongst the fog of tobacco smoke that sits in the air.

Customers casually walk in, purchase a cigar for anything between $3 to $14 and stand around talking to anyone within earshot.

“What about those Yankees”, could have been the catch cry to launch a thousand conversations in this place.

Working with NFL team, the New York Jets for a special game day cigar later this season, second generation shop owner Jesus Martinez, sees smoking one of his cigars as an experience to be savoured.

In talking to his staff, it’s clear that smoking a cigar is an event to be appreciated with time, never to be a ‘one drag event. It’s about the experience.

Maybe Red Auerback was right, cigar smoking is a symbol of relaxation. In the case of Martinez Cigars you don’t have to be a sports star, just a New Yorker looking for an outlet.

Lighting up after a championship win remains the defining picture of success in the US but maybe it’s not just a symbol of success for the sporting elite.

For sports stars and New Yorkers in general, a cigar at Martinez is a chance to relax, forget about the world and celebrate a job well done or simply to bring an end to a hard working week.

About David Griffin

Lover of coffee, sport and human endeavour. A writer and life enthusiast with a shameless admiration for dogged persistent people that get 'stuff' done.


  1. I can smell it from here.
    Do they produce commemorative rings for the cigars? I remember as a little tacker always getting the ring from my dad’s cigars.

  2. Thanks davep……these guys didn’t produce commemorative sports rings for cigars. They focused on celebrations for teams and coterie groups. Sometimes they changed the colour of a cigar ring to match the teams colours. Away from sports teams they do make special cigar rings for businesses and other groups.
    According to these guys, the Martinez cigar logo is the stamp of quality if you like.
    In an interesting side note, they suggested that the use of any form of logo from any of the sporting organisations (approved or not) would bring them the wraith of god!
    It probably much like an organisation we know of down at the docklands.
    Thanks for your comment.
    David G

  3. Never been a smoker, but “Smoke” based on a Paul Auster novel is one of my favourite movies. Set in a New York corner cigar store with an amazing range of actors – Harvey Keitel, Stockard Channing (with an eye patch and her eternal world weariness and potty mouth – making her sexier than ever), William Hurt and Forrest Whittaker.
    Love the atmospherics of a good cigar and your writing. Thanks David.

  4. Hello Peter,
    Thanks for your message. I will have to have a look at “Smoke.
    I like your description of Stockard Channing. For some reason she will always be tarnished with a “potty mouth”, and like you, I like it!
    I appreciate the feedback and I am glad you liked the story…..there is something quite unique about New York, Cigars and old rustic shops that sell the cigars.
    Enjoy your evening and thanks again.

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