John Starks enjoyed a brilliant basketball career playing 14 seasons in the NBA, including eight for the New York Knicks where he dominated the hardwood and electrified the Garden. He was a fierce shooting guard who stood toe to toe with NBA legends like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal. Starks amassed 10,829 career points and is the Knicks all-time leader in three point field goals with 982. During the 1994-95 season, he became the first player in NBA history to net 200 three-pointers in a single season.
Fast forward fifteen years and John Starks is now a successful entrepreneur with his own brand of cigars, Legend Cigars. Starks, alongside business partner Gary Basciano, teamed up with master blender and industry legend, Rolando Villamil to produce flavorful Dominican cigars using premium tobaccos and top-notch quality control.
“If a cigar is not good, people are not going to smoke it,” said Starks. “We have been very fortunate to work with Rolando who has done a great job for us, putting out a high quality product.”
Starks’ foray into cigars began more than 10 years ago on the golf course after a friend recommended that he smoke cigars to relax.
“I started smoking cigars on the golf course to calm me down,” said Starks. “A friend of mine recommended that I try smoking cigars while I golf. It worked. I improved my game.”
Shortly afterward Starks found himself in the middle of cigar country when he hosted a basketball clinic in the Dominican Republic. After touring a factory in Santiago, Starks was offered a chance to invest in a defunct cigar factory, American Cigars.
“It had everything intact. The workers lived directly across from the factory in the heart of tobacco fields,” said Starks. “We ran the numbers and it seemed like a great idea.”
After nearly 10 years of product development, the Legend Cigars Collection was born. The brand consists of three blends with the ‘John Starks Signature Series #3’ being its flagship release. The Series #3 includes the 93-rated medium-strength Maduro that boasts a Brazilian Maduro wrapper with a Dominican binder and Dominican Seco and Olor fillers. It is an earthy based cigar with notes of coffee, chocolate and pepper.
“The Brazilian Maduro leaf is a great wrap that gives you good consistent flavor throughout,” said Starks.
The second blend under the Series #3 line is the 90-rated Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapped stick. Its Dominican Seco and Olor filler is enveloped by a flavorful Dominican binder. This cigar is as beautiful as it is tasty. It is a bit milder than its Maduro counterpart and offers a flavor profile dominated by nutty spices.
“We put out the Connecticut to satisfy the lighter smoker,” said Starks. “We wanted to put something out there that everyone can enjoy. Both the Maduro and the Connecticut offer great flavors to the taste buds.”
The third blend under the Legend Collection is the Dominican Legend Corojo. It is a full-flavored stick loaded with pepper and other spices that are often equated with the Honduran Corojo wrapper leaf. Its Dominican binder houses an all-Dominican filler mix of Piloto Cubano Ligero, PIloto Cubano Seco, Olor Ligero, Criollo and 1998 Ligero to round out a smooth, complex blend.
“The Corojo, which we didn’t release to retailers yet, is a bit heavier than our other two blends,” Starks said.
Starks is a hands-on brand owner. He frequents the Dominican Republic as often as possible to test blends and to ensure that quality control measures are being followed. Rolando Villamil is responsible for gathering tobacco and rolling blends, but it is ultimately Starks’ decision whether or not a blend is suitable for release.
“You get a lot of celebrities who get involved with cigars and stick their name on it but don’t know if it is a good cigar,” Starks said. “I want to make sure that I’m putting my name to something that is very good and something that people are going to like.”
With so many quality cigars on the market today, why smoke Legend Cigars? According to Starks, “we have something that can compete with anybody.”
“We have had people come up to us that have been smoking premium cigars for a while, and they have said that our cigars are just as good as anybody,” said Starks. “Others have told me that they have smoked it down to the nub and could not get enough of it.”
Starks has opened Stamford Cigar Lounge in Stamford, Connecticut where he houses his tasting team who samples blends and helps him decide on new releases. Going forward, Starks plans to build on the company’s existing success and wants to continue delivering quality cigars year after year.
“Consistency is what keeps you in this game,” said Starks. “We want to work on the product to get better just like in the game of basketball. Every year you have to come back with something new to surprise your opponent.”
The days of the infamous “Dunk” against Chicago and rage-infused headbutts at Reggie Miller may be long gone, but Starks’ legacy continues to haunt opponents. Even though the opposition now dons fedoras and blazers rather than gym shorts and sweat bands, the fiery tenacity behind the veritable passion still burns strong.
“Cigars is a business that I’m passionate about. I think cigar smokers are incredible people,” said Starks.