By Gary Tolley

Celtics fans of a certain age can remember going to games at the old Boston Garden in the glory days of the 1980’s.  I was a kid back then, and it was a real treat to see players like Bird, McHale, Parish, and Carr play live.  There was a certain magic in the air there– the fans, the parquet floor, the giant scoreboard, the history.  I remember looking up in amazement at the rafters and seeing all of those championship banners and retired numbers – each one of them hanging in a thick haze of tobacco smoke.  And above everything was that filthy, nasty, smoke-stained ceiling.  Yuck.


Times changed, though.  As the health dangers of smoking (and second-hand smoke) became undeniable, smoking was increasingly restricted.  Nowadays if a family wants to attend a Celtics game they don’t have to breathe second-hand smoke the entire time they are there. 


We’ve come a long way as a society in discouraging tobacco use by young people (the tobacco industry’s next generation of victims), but more work needs to be done to protect kids.  Youth smoking rates continue to be a concern, and vaping devices popular with teens only make matters worse. 


The Boston Celtics and the NBA should do more to help protect their youngest fans from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine.  The tobacco pipe in the Celtics’ leprechaun logo should be erased for the simple reason that it sends the wrong message to kids.

Celtic modern logo
The current leprechaun logo


Children are undoubtedly persuaded by cartoon characters, which is why tobacco advertisements can no longer include cartoons like Joe Camel.  It seems strange, then, that a smiling leprechaun with a tobacco pipe in his mouth gets a pass.  This leprechaun could unwittingly lead children down the path to thinking that smoking is okay.  And, as we all know, there’s no pot o’ gold at the end of that rainbow (unless you’re the surgeon paid to remove the lung cancer).


There are a combined 168 teams in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, NFL, CFL and MLS, which, for the purposes of this article, we’ll say are the major sports leagues in the US and Canada.  Of all these teams, only one, the Boston Celtics, has a nicotine delivery device in its logo.

Now, to the NBA’s credit, teams are prohibited from placing tobacco ads on player jerseys.  But the NBA sends a mixed message by allowing the Celtics to use a tobacco-friendly logo on all kinds of merchandise geared toward children including t-shirts, hats, jackets, backpacks, infant bodysuits, baby bibs, and teething rattles.

A quick look back

Over the years other sports teams have featured cigars or pipes in their logos.  Most of the logos we found were from the minor leagues, and one was from college. All of them are from a long time ago.  Here are a few:

The Washington Senators stogie logo from the late 1950’s (I bet he’s throwing a curveball):

senators logo

The AAA Charlestown Charlies cigar logo from about ’71-’83 (this one took all of about 2 minutes to design): 

Charlestown Charlies logo

Here’s a creepy one from the San Diego Mariners in the 1970’s.  Was this pipe smoking sea captain/hockey player the inspiration for the Village People?  Or the giant-headed Burger King guy?  Or both?  You decide:

San Diego Mariners logo

Sebastian the Ibis smoked a corncob pipe for 35 years at the University of Miami, but in 1996 the pipe was removed.  The guy who wore the Ibis costume for the University of Miami led the effort to remove it.  He thought the pipe sent the wrong message to kids:

UMiami Ibis logo

Now back to the Celtics – they introduced this odd pipe-smokin’ dude in 1950 – back when smoking was commonplace.  Some call this the “Leprechaun on Toilet”:

early leprechaun

A redesign in 1968 removed the leprechaun’s pipe.  This design was a huge improvement and is the basis for the modern logo:

Celtics logo without pipe

The Boston Celtics have a tradition of winning both on and off the court, and have been a positive influence for kids in the Boston area since their inception.  The Shamrock Foundation is just one example of this positive influence.  There is nothing positive about smoking, though, which is why keeping the tobacco pipe in the logo makes no sense.  The Celtics and the NBA shouldn’t associate with tobacco use in any way.

According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use causes more than 7 million deaths worldwide every year.  Think about that.  7 million.  The CDC tells us that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and diabetes.  There is no safe way to use tobacco.

The Boston sports landscape has been negatively impacted by smoking in recent years. Celtics legend and Hall-of-Famer Tommy Heinsohn, a 50 year smoker, announced fewer games last season due in part to shortness of breath.  Red Sox fan favorite Jerry Remy has battled lung cancer repeatedly.  As Boston sports fans, we’ve missed their expert analysis.  Let’s hope their health improves.

The NBA and the Celtics should do the right thing for their fans and erase the pipe from the logo, and remove it from all merchandise.  This isn’t 1950 anymore.

To the purists who will argue the pipe should be kept because of “tradition”, please remember the Celtics have removed the pipe before.

“But what about Frosty the Snowman, Popeye, and Santa Claus?” you might ask. Yeah, all three have been known to smoke a pipe on occasion.  Let’s encourage them to kick the habit, too.

-Gary Tolley, sports columnist, 


*The copyrights to the logos used in this article are the property of their respective owners.

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