Like Father, Like Son: The Unbreakable Bond Between Tito and Al Horford
MILWAUKEE – Tito Horford cannot be missed.
He’s the biggest person in the arena. He’s the loudest person in the arena. And he’s the proudest person in the arena.
The father of Celtics center/forward Al Horford has been sitting – or standing, rather – courtside throughout Boston’s playoff run, donning his son’s green and white, No. 42 Celtics jersey. Chances are you’ve seen him by now, as television cameras often pan to his enthusiastic reactions that follow his son’s various on-court successes.
“It’s a lot of fun having him around,” Al tells Celtics.com amid the Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup between Boston and Milwaukee. “My dad always brings great energy and I’m very happy that he’s able to be around me, around the team, just watching these games. This is the kind of stuff we all look forward to – to be in these moments together.”
Tito has been along for the ride all throughout his son’s basketball career. He used to drive to all of Al’s high school games in the Grand Ledge, Michigan area. In later years, he would travel to see him play college ball at the University of Florida.
Not much changed when Al was drafted third overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. Tito, along with the rest of the Horford family, would go watch him play for the Atlanta Hawks, and he continues to journey to NBA arenas around the country to see Al suit up for the Boston Celtics.
As he still resides in Michigan, Tito is not able to make it to all of the regular-season games. However, he will never miss a moment of action during the Playoffs, as he has proven again with his steadfast presence this postseason.
“I enjoy every minute,” Tito says. “This is what I live for and this is what I enjoy – traveling with him and having fun. He’s such a great son and I admire him so much on and off the court. So, it’s my pleasure to take some time to travel with him.”
It’s ironic, in a way, because Tito is following in his son’s footsteps, just as Al once followed in his. Tito, himself, has a storied basketball past, having been the first Dominican-born player to ever make it to the NBA. After playing at the University of Miami, he was selected 39th overall in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Bucks. The 7-foot-1 center spent two years playing in Milwaukee, before embarking on a career overseas. He also played briefly for the Washington Bullets later in his career.
“When he was younger, he used to follow me,” Tito recalls of his son’s attachment. “He used to go to practice with me when I played overseas, when I played for the Dominican National Team, even when I was here in Milwaukee – he was little, but I used to bring him to practice with me.”
Those adventures with his father helped to shape Al into who he is today.
“He was a big influence, just because the reason I got interested in basketball was that I was watching him,” the younger Horford told Celtics.com back in the summer of 2016, shortly after signing with the C’s.
Not only did Al study his father’s skills on the court, but he also adopted a similar work ethic off of it. Tito prided himself on being a diligent, disciplined athlete, as he maintained steady work habits throughout his playing career. Any coach of Al’s would say that he’s the exact same way.
“He’s very comfortable in who he is as a person and who he is as a basketball player,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said of Al. “You can see that in the way that he conducts himself, carries himself and plays the game.”
Tito couldn’t be prouder of what his son has become. As such, he has gone from being Al’s inspiration, to now being the one who's inspired.
“This kid worked so hard to become a good all-around player, and not only a good basketball player, but a good person,” Tito says. “That’s what I love the most about him, he’s just so humble and dedicated and just so disciplined. Like [Monday] morning I saw him in the weight room, and I was like, ‘Man, you played last night 32 minutes.’ Then we ate breakfast and I was like, ‘I’m going to go to the weight room too.’
“That kind of stuff impresses me because I see the dedication and I see his hunger to win and then to help his team to go to the next level. That’s why, as a father, he makes me proud.”
Seeing that dedication, Tito says, is one of the reasons why he has been able to maintain such great health at the age of 53. His physique amazingly still resembles that of an NBA player, and he suggests he could probably still play a few possessions out there with the pros.
“Just give me 10 days,” he jokes.
While he likely won’t be getting any 10-day contract offers anytime soon, Tito continues to strive to stay in great shape. He claims that’s what gives him the energy to be the most enthusiastic fan in the arena.
“I work out a lot, just I’m trying to maintain what I’ve got left and that helps a lot,” he says. “I’m sleeping right, eating right and then that’s what gives me that energy. Plus, Al’s an inspiration to me. When I see my son follow my footsteps and doing what I used to do – not as well as he does, you know, he’s a way better player – but I really enjoy watching him play and perform and be successful in this high level.”
Tito particularly enjoyed watching his son play Sunday afternoon in the same city where he himself began his professional career.
“For me, it’s like a homecoming, because this is the team that drafted me,” Tito says. “And coming to Milwaukee and seeing my son perform in the arena where I used to play, not in this particular one right now – we were at the (recently demolished) Bradley Center – but seeing him playing in this arena now, where I used to live when I was drafted, that gives me chills when I see him on the court. It makes me nervous a little bit because as a father you always want to see your son doing well. But once the game starts, man, I’m geared up and I’m ready.”
To his father’s delight, Al put forth one of the best playoff performances of his career Sunday afternoon in Game 1. The 32-year-old big man logged 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks during 32 minutes of turnover-free action, all while helping to limit Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokoumpo to a 7-of-21 shooting effort. That performance is a key factor in the Celtics heading back to Boston with the series tied up at 1-1.
After Sunday's game, the proud father offered some insight as to why Al was so successful.
“Giannis is a good player and it’s hard to contain him because he’s so athletic as a 7-footer, but what I see from Al is that he’s very smart,” Tito explains. “When he comes to play against people bigger than him, at least taller than him, he uses a lot of knowledge of his footwork and his arms. You saw him last year when he played against (Philadelphia center Joel) Embiid, how he contained him in the post, and now you see it here and he won this battle. So, he’s just the type of player who will study his opponent. He watches a lot of film and then he knows how to defend the low post, I think better than anybody.”
Take a guess as to how Al learned those traits.
“His thing to me was always defending and rebounding were the things he always talked to me about,” Al says of his father’s influence. “He was a really good defender, so basically what he always told me was, ‘Hey, if you can play defense, you’ll always have a chance to be on a team, be able to play, you always look for a guy that can defend.’ And that’s advice that I see true to this day.”
Al still listens to every word of advice that his father offers, and having his energetic presence courtside is something that gives the veteran center an extra boost when he’s out on the court.
“I’ll look at him every now and then,” Al says with a smile. “He’s enjoying it. He loves it. He’s very passionate and it is pretty funny. My siblings will send me stuff about him, screenshots if he’s on TV or something like that, and I always get a kick out of that.”
Tito fits in perfectly with Boston’s boisterous fan base. He still remembers his first NBA playoff experience with Al back in 2008 when the Hawks took on the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The energy inside TD Garden during Game 7 of that series is something he’ll never forget.
“I said, ‘Wow. I love the fans here in Boston. They cannot shut up. They just keep shouting every time,’” Tito recalls. “I was like, ‘That’s the kind of fan that I like. That’s the kind of place I’d like to see my son play.’ And then it happened! So, it’s like a dream come true for me.”
Now, Tito gets to live out that dream, while taking the form of one of those charismatic Celtics fans during a postseason run. His presence on the sideline cannot be missed. And the proud father won't be missing a moment of action while his son is on the court.