The first time Al Horford visited TD Garden — just five games into his NBA career — he couldn’t stop looking skyward at the Boston Celtics’ 16 championship banners that hung above the parquet floor. Horford admits he was hypnotized by the symbols of Boston’s winning tradition. He ultimately made six trips to Boston that season as the Celtics defeated Horford’s Atlanta Hawks in a thrilling seven-game series in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs en route to claiming a 17th world title.
Nine years later, the 30-year-old Horford wore his new Celtics No. 42 jersey at Monday’s media day and detailed how Boston’s history played a factor in his decision to sign a blockbuster four-year, $113 million deal this past summer.
“Maybe some guys feel differently, but I couldn’t stop looking at [the banners],” Horford said. “It’s powerful. … This is a special place.”
With the scoreboards at the team’s practice facility decorated with the same “18”s that have glowed at big media events since the team’s last title season, Horford and his new teammates stressed that they would not be overwhelmed by the heightened expectations that greet the team in coach Brad Stevens’ fourth year at the helm.
The Celtics, coming off a 48-win campaign and having added Horford this offseason, have been pegged to push north of 50 wins and emerge as the biggest challenger to the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. While Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge were careful to temper expectations, even Ainge conceded there is one ultimate goal in Boston.
“We’re always gearing toward a championship,” Ainge said. “That’s always our objective. We’re building towards a championship. So we need to take another step.”
Anthony spoke out in his own way earlier this summer, when he asked athletes to use their platform to draw attention to police brutality in the wake of the killings of African American men by police and killings of police in Dallas. He also spoke on stage at the ESPYS about social injustice along with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, and he organized a town hall meeting in Los Angeles to discuss police and community relations.
Anthony, who told NBA.com that he has emailed with Kaepernick, said Tuesday that Kaepernick’s decision to draw attention to social issues is what he was the kind of thing he was hoping for when he originally spoke out.
“That was the prime example of somebody stepping up,” Anthony said. “I think he was the first one that actually stepped up and did something the way that he wanted to do it, use his voice in the way that he wanted to use it. That’s the only thing I was asking. I didn’t know he was going to do it that way. But it is what it is at this point. Obviously, something good hopefully should come out of what he’s doing. I don’t think he’s being disrespectful. He’s not having a loud protest. He’s doing it quiet. He’s doing it in his own right, and if people want to follow suit, they follow suit. That’s on everybody else.”
Anthony said that he is unlikely to kneel during the national anthem this season. He and the rest of his teammates are likely to do something to call attention to police violence, but they have yet to decide what that will be.