Boston Red Sox: Celtics star Al Horford discusses friendship with David Ortiz

Jul 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) with Boston Celtic forward Al Horford and son Ean prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) with Boston Celtic forward Al Horford and son Ean prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Al Horford, the prized free agent signing for the Celtics, has long had a connection with Boston thanks to his friendship with Red Sox icon David Ortiz.

Everyone that has ever met David Ortiz has a story to tell about the iconic slugger for the Boston Red Sox.

Sports Illustrated invited Ortiz to be a guest-editor for their latest issue, which features him on the cover and includes a candid interview with SI senior editor Tom Verducci. While “The Big Interview” was a featured story, Ortiz’s presence could be felt throughout the issue.

This edition of SI, which hits newsstands on Thursday, September 29, also includes a profile on Boston Celtics star Al Horford, who dispelled the myth that the franchise is incapable of luring premium free agents by signing a four-year, $113 million deal this summer. While the article dives into the factors that convinced him to come to Boston, his friendship with Ortiz stands out as an overlooked influence.

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Horford first met Ortiz during his rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks when he came to town to face the Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs. He was coming off back-to-back national titles at Florida and was selected as the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, yet Horford was amazed that a star of Ortiz’s caliber recognized him. The pair of athletes would form what Horford called “an immediate bond,” forged in part by their shared heritage.

The first Dominican basketball player to make it to the NBA was Tito Horford, who happens to be Al’s father. There aren’t many basketball players that make it to this level coming out of his country, but baseball has had a number of Dominican stars – none bigger than Ortiz.

"“I’m a baseball fan,” Horford told SI. “I always pulled for where the Dominican players play. So growing up, it was Sammy [Sosa] with the Cubs. But then more recently it was David, and Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. So the fact that he was acknowledging me and wanted to get to know me? It was just really, really cool.”"

Get to know each other they have, as they would end up meeting for dinner and getting to know each other’s families anytime Horford was in town to face the Celtics or Ortiz went to Atlanta for a series against the Braves. What started as admiration for an accomplished athlete from Horford’s home country has evolved into a genuine friendship.

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Horford tells a great story of his relationship with Ortiz that dates back to his wedding day on Christmas Eve back in 2011. Hours before he was supposed to stand at the alter, Horford found himself in a panic when he realized there was no limo to bring his bride to the wedding. So what does he do? He calls his friend David and it’s Big Papi to the rescue!

Ortiz wasn’t even in the Dominican at the time, but he told Horford to send a friend over to his home to pick up his Rolls-Royce Phantom. “I’ll have it there in 30 minutes,” Ortiz told him. “I just gotta get it washed.”

The generosity amazes Horford to this day.

"“He didn’t even know my guy down there,” Horford says with a laugh. “I sent a friend of mine. And he picks up the Phantom, brings it over to my wife… And you know, that’s a very expensive car. But [Ortiz] tells me to keep it until I leave. So we’re there for a couple more days, and we have the car the whole time. It’s just one of those things, it shows he has a really big heart.”"

That’s just the type of guy that Ortiz is, which is something Red Sox fans have become accustomed to in the 14 years since he came to Boston.

Now it’s 2016 and Horford is the new star coming to this city just as Ortiz is about to retire from the spotlight. Shortly after Horford signed with the Celtics he was invited to Fenway Park to throw out the first pitch before a game. Of course it was Ortiz waiting on the receiving end behind the plate. The moment was a symbolic passing of the torch, signaling that it is now Horford’s turn to become the latest in a long line of Dominican-born stars to play in Boston.

Seeing how this city has embraced his fellow countrymen had to have helped ease any concerns Horford may have had about leaving the only NBA team he had ever played for to come to Boston.

The Celtics brought in New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to try to pitch this city to Kevin Durant during last summer’s free agent frenzy, only for those efforts to fall short. There was no need for the Celtics brass to bring a Boston icon to show off their collection of championship rings to their meeting with Horford.

Next: Securing AL's top spot should be priority

Everything he needed to know about what it means to play in this city, win in this city and represent Dominican athletes in this city he already learned from his friend, Big Papi.