Al Horford talks NBA longevity, and coming off the bench for the 1st time

Celtics

Al Horford is still chasing his first title 17 years after he was drafted. He’s willing to do what it takes to give the Celtics a shot to win.

Al Horford. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
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Al Horford’s longevity is one of the aspects of his career that makes him the proudest. The 37-year-old Celtics big man is in his 17th NBA season, and he has outlasted the vast majority of his peers in the 2007 draft class.

Horford is one of five players still playing in the NBA from the 60-man class.

It takes a meticulous approach to play this long in the NBA, Horford said. It’s about the willingness to do the little things that might not seem big, but end up making the difference. Things like eating right, working out harder than ever, and continuously adapting your game as the league changes.

Horford sees those qualities in the few players from his draft class who are left in the league.

“I feel like I represent that class, right? I’m always aware,” Horford told Boston.com in an exclusive interview promoting his new partnership with home security company SimpliSafe. “Like, the other day we played Toronto and I saw Thaddeus Young. He’s part of my class, and when I see him I get all excited. Mike Conley, we played him earlier, and obviously Kevin Durant is still doing his thing at a very, very high level.”

“There’s a few of us left from that class and I do take pride in that,” Horford continued. “We’re still standing. We’re still going. I’m still impacting the team. That’s like my biggest thing. I want to make sure that I’m having an impact on the team in any way that I can.”

This season, Horford is coming off the bench regularly for the first time in his career. He has started 1,006 of the 1,025 games in his NBA career. He started 77 games as a rookie, and he started all 63 games that he played last year. This year, he’s made three starts in 12 games.

Horford is still getting used to his new role, he said, but he knew going into the season that he’d have to make sacrifices in order to maximize his impact with the Celtics, who have a league-best 11-3 record.

“I’ve always wanted to do whatever I could to help the team win,” Horford said. “And right now, this is where our group is at. For me at this moment, it’s to come in and bring a spark, bring energy off the bench, raise our level of play every time that I come in and have an impact defensively. My role is different now, and that’s something that I’m still adjusting to, but I’m still trying to make sure that I put my imprint and in every game that I play.”

Expectations for the Celtics are high this season. It’s pretty much championship or bust for Boston. Horford is still chasing his first title. The Celtics have been serious contenders in recent years, but have come up short of winning it all.

Would the five-time All-Star be satisfied with his lengthy career if the Celtics don’t end up capturing a title?

“I think at the end of the day, for me, it’s been this wonderful journey to be able to come into the NBA coming from Dominican Republic,” Horford said. “To come here and be in this position playing in the best league in the world, I feel like I’ve kind of already won when I when I look at it like that.”

Horford said he’s grateful to be on the title hunt again this year. He added that there are things he appreciates about playing in the NBA that go beyond wins and losses.

“Obviously, the goal of mine is to win a championship, of course,” Horford said. “But to answer your question, you know, it’s something that is very fulfilling for me, just everything that I’ve been able to live through and all the relationships and all the teammates I’ve been able to have. So, I’m really grateful for everything.”

Championship expectations were part of what drew Horford to Boston in the first place, he said.

“It’s very clear to me, that that’s where I want to be, and in the past, we’ve had our opportunities,” Horford said. “We haven’t quite been able to make it there. For me, my mindset right now is to really focus on the day-to-day and focus on this journey. We have a great opportunity in this season right now, and we just want to continue to get better. When you play for Boston those are the expectations. So that’s what we expect.”

No matter how the season plays out, Horford said he wants to be remembered for the way he approaches the game.

“I just want to be remembered as a competitor, a guy that plays the right way and plays to win,” Horford said. “I think that’s that’s the biggest thing for me. It’s never been about numbers or accolades, or things like that. My goals are have always been team oriented goals.”


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